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October 2015

Four Legs Good: How to Prepare Your Pets for Natural Disasters


When you’re running a household, you need to look out for all of its members. If a natural disaster strikes, you want to be ready. The Federal Government has its suggestions, but what if you have pets? Purina, which is sponsoring this post, recently invited me to a Google hangout with the veterinarian Dr. Kurt Venator and a few other bloggers, including the cat-centric publication Mousebreath, which offers these tips; The Los Angeles-focused site MomsLA, whose insight is here; and the opera-singing Tenor Dad, who hits these notes.

Dr. Venator lives in upstate New York with his wife, Kristi (his high school sweetheart), and their three sons (Parker, Camden, and Knox) and three yellow Labrador Retrievers (Sailor, Chance, and Thatcher). “I’m actually a big fan of cooking,” he told me. “I find it immensely relaxing and a great way to bring the entire family together.” The Venators have a number of traditions, including gathering for a Sunday morning brunch. “Nothing fancy, but a nice full spread,” he said. “Pancakes, hash browns, made-to-order omelets, and locally made peameal bacon.”

The other go-to meal around their house is a traditional steak dinner, “Charlie Palmer steakhouse style,” Dr. Venator said. “We start with local fillet, prepped with freshly ground peppercorns and sea salt in a mortar and pestle, which the boys love helping with.” He then pulls out antique cast-iron pans, heats up grapeseed oil (which, he says, has a higher smoking temp and clean, light taste), sears them on each side for two-to-three minutes, and then puts them in the oven for seven minutes at 350, with a pat of butter on each one. “The boys can’t seem to get enough,” he revealed.

There’s another noteworthy custom of the Venator household: periodic, classic Thanksgiving meals. “Honestly, we do it about four times per year because the entire family loves it,” he said. “All the standard fixings, including homemade stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, a delightful blended squash (butternut, acorn, and the somewhat rare Boston marrow." He also makes a cranberry-habanero chutney. “Given the time of year, I thought I would share the recipe,” he said. “It’s really easy to make but really tasty – nice balance of heat and sweet.”

Dr. Venator’s Habanero-Cranberry Chutney

  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 habanero chile
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, fresh squeezed
  • Put first five ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to boil.

Lower heat and simmer till thickened.

Remove from heat and add orange juice.

Let cool about 15 minutes, then place in a food processor.

Pulse to desired consistency.

And in case catastrophe strikes, here are six tips for caring for you pet in the event of a natural disaster.  

  1. The first step to preparing your pet for a natural disaster is to make sure that he or she is wearing a securely fastened collar with up-to-date identification in case you become separated.
  2. To prep your home, talk to your local veterinarian who can provide waterproof, “Pets Inside” stickers that you can place on the front and back door of your house to alert rescuers that there are pets inside your home.
  3. Prepare a disaster kit, with basic pet essentials such as bottled water, cans of wet food, blankets, collapsible bowls, cat litter and pan, and a leash and collar. Be sure to include a basic pet first-aid kit. A one-to-two-week supply of food that your pet usually eats is an ideal amount to include, too, however make sure to replace the food according to the expiration dates.
  4. Have photos of your pet on-hand in case you need to distribute pictures if your pet gets lost and make sure to include any important paperwork pertaining to your pet (e.g. vaccine records/medical history, veterinary contact information, medications list and emergency contacts).
  5. Develop an evacuation plan: Save precious evacuation time by identifying possible locations where you can take your animals. These locations can include animal shelters, veterinary clinics or even pet-friendly hotels where you and your pet can find relief until the disaster passes. Keeping your dog’s medical records on hand is vital since some pet-friendly emergency relief centers require proof of vaccinations in order for your pet to stay there.
  6. Recruit friends and neighbors: Consider creating a buddy system with your neighbor, family or friend who can look out for your pet in case you are not home when a disaster strikes. Add this person to your veterinarian’s emergency contact list of people who have authority to approve necessary emergency treatments if you can’t be reached. Also, identify places where you can leave your pet while you are out of town to avoid leaving your pet alone. Always let your pet sitter and back-up person know where your pet’s disaster kit is stored in case of an emergency.

How to Make Pizza at Home When Things Aren’t Working


Everything they say about making pizza at home is true. It’s easy (here’s my sauce recipe). It’s delicious (here’s my dough recipe). And it’s fun (here’s how to put it all together, using store-bought ingredients, but the method still holds).

If you still need more proof, check out this handy guide in The New York Times, from Sam Sifton, one of my food-writing idols (anyone can who can reference Ludwig Bemelmans “Madeline” in a charitable review of Nello—see the last graph about a row of Saudi women in two straight lines at a table not covered in wines—will forever be a hero of mine). I believe every single word of the Times’ guide. Really, I do.

But just as every story has three sides—your side, my side, and the truth—sometimes you you have to make a “calzone.” For no matter how long you may have been making pizza, something will, eventually, go wrong. And when that happens you will face a choice. If say, for example, you are struggling with a recalcitrant bit of dough that won’t slide off the peel and into the oven, you can strangle yourself with frustration as you feel 475-degrees of heat on your forehead. Or you can step back and improvise, which is what I did the other day. I rolled up the mess of dough and cheese and sauce and pushed it into the oven. A few minutes later (just enough time to put together another pie, with sufficient flour on the peel to prevent any stickiness), I pulled a “calzone” out of the oven.

I was happy to be done with mutant mass of misery, but you know what happened?  The gaggle of hungry and waiting kids (some some friends, some family, some of whom are famous in these parts for spurning the Sifton-esque pizzas of the past) nibbled and gnawed and enjoyed the scalawag “calzone.” I keep putting the word “calzone” in quotes, because whatever I made was far from the Italian classic, but the kids were sold on it and everyone was happy. So no matter what happens when you’re making pizza, don’t give up on it. Just keep going.

What's the One Thing to Do to Get Better at Cooking for Kids?


If you want to get better at cooking for kids, you don’t need to pick up another book. You don’t need to scroll through another blog. You definitely don’t need to take any classes. To get better at cooking for kids, you only need to do one thing: listen to them.

Yes, listen to them. I’m not really talking about infants and toddlers, but rather about slightly older kids. If you give them a chance, they will tell you what they want. Heck, even if you don’t give them a chance you’ll hear all about what they want. I’m not saying you have to give them everything they want, but if you listen to them you might just be surprised at the results.

As anyone who has ever been married knows, listening does not necessarily come naturally. Sometimes, it has to be learned. I can’t claim to be an expert at listening, but I am an expert at studying how to do it. I’ve discovered it’s a three-step process. The first and the last steps are to stop talking. This also happens to be the second step.

While you’re at it, if you’re going to stop talking, you might as well stop blaming, too. And judging. And minimizing. And otherwise invalidating the child’s experience. Listening is key to acceptance. And acceptance is key to everything. I don’t have the vocabulary, experience, or expertise to explain this, and I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Instead, read a bit about the life experience of Marsha M. Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She started out as a disturbed child intent on harming herself and who found freedom and salvation through self-acceptance. For some practical advice, check out this piece on Psychology Today’s website by Dr. Karyn Hall.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyday I learn the lesson of how important it is to listen. Just the other day I made Puttanesca sauce for Nina and Pinta. The elder one had been longing for it for a while, and I was pleased to break out of a recent cooking drought (have you noticed a lack of posts???) by stirring up the old favorite.

But that dinner didn’t go quite as planned. I had chopped the tomatoes and both of my children were put off by the chunkiness of the sauce. They didn’t want to eat it, and I heard them. I often make the pasta and sauce as a side for frozen Alaskan salmon (which is so good it needs no recipe), and it mattered little to me if they ate the pasta with a sauce or plain.

Last night, I made the sauce again, but this time around I hit the canned tomatoes with my Braun immersion blender, and the sauce was as smooth as the night was fun. From the second when Nina came home from school and smelled that familiar aroma in the air and wondered what it was, to the moment that Pinta shouted out “Puttanesca,” from her piano bench where she was practicing, it was a peaceful and joyful evening. Listening, it turns out, is good for everyone.

Puttanesca Sauce


  • One 28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed (or hit with an immersion blender)
  • 4 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 chili pepper (or a quick shake of red-pepper flakes)
  • 1 T capers
  •  12 or so black olives, pitted and sliced
  • herbs such as basil or oregano to taste (completely optional)


Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and anchovies and chili pepper (or red pepper flakes).

Sauté until the garlic is soft, then add the tomatoes and reduce.

When the sauce thickens (in about fifteen minutes), add capers and olives and any herbs.

Serve over the pasta of your choice.