XXXIV. Spindles

My web site crashed last week, corrupting my files and disappointingly losing your recent comments. It’s the phantom of my blog, you might suspect, creeping along the catwalks inside my site and nudging something to cause the crash. No, the phantom here is my web host, a guy with a server set on spindles in the middle of his living room. Often when I try to reach him by email or phone, he is out to – well, lunch. There’s a phone number on his email signature, which he doesn’t answer; so I email him to call me. Then he emails me back – probably from his smart phone over a quick burger with leggy streams of lettuce and strings of onion slathered in secret sauce dripping over his wrist and says it’s not his policy to phone clients, at least not when he’s at lunch, which as I mentioned, he always is.

Finally, I did make contact with my web host who admitted he had what he referred to as a “network problem;” that is to say more accurately, his spindles rotted causing his server to drop and roll over on its side, a neurological disorder, one might say. My site was down for 24 hours. You may have noticed. When you navigated to this site all you got was 48-point typeface blaring “Error…”. A few weeks ago, when I went to view my site, I got the message “This site has been suspended,” black small print on a large white page. Uh-oh. Now what did I do? “We had a permission issue,” my web host emailed me. “What kind of a permission issue?” I asked. He responded: “A permission issue is a permission issue.” Of course. “A permission issue over what specific item?” I tried again. I had developed a persistence issue. “A problem with one of our servers,” he acquiesced.

Between restoring my site and dealing with family matters, I have been busy sweeping up and reorganizing my splintered time; every time I sit down to add a paragraph to this chapter, a new pressing urgency falls to my attention.

Following a barrage of my email queries and the web host’s fragmented responses clogging my mailbox, the web host said, “We can restore your site as of our latest backup on October 16,” a week prior to the crash. I said that if that was the best he could do, then, please, go ahead. I had to gather my work from the past week and reconstitute it. The web host added, “Usually the backup will cost $10 and this time I have given it for free. You have to purchase the backup feature next time onwards.” “Why should I have to pay for your mistake?” I emailed back. No reply. I’m in the market for a new web host.

In any case, I have now downloaded Rbrowser, a mystifying backup program for my Mac. As soon as I decipher the code and unravel the operational idiosyncrasies of how to get Rbrowser to crack into my web site file manager and locate the right file folder, I will back up my work. It’s easy, claim the software engineers, just drag it over – um, over? Over to where? Does this application come with a flashlight?

Nora Ephron wrote a New York Times Sunday Review Opinion Pages piece published on October 15, titled “iToo … Could Have Known Steve Jobs. Or Did I?” Sadly, he looked so spindly towards the end of his life. She writes that she often thought of him when he was alive, although never met him in person – she doesn’t think she did – when she was writing at her “wonderful iMac computer.” I often think of him, too, when I write at my wonderful Mac; so I suppose I could say “iToo 2.” Up until my Mac, I used PCs. The last PC I had was fabulous; it had a long life – 10 years – but it became outdated, and all my PCs crashed and got viruses and Trojans. However, there’s nothing spindly about my Mac operating system. It is so stable; it is always here for me, unlike my website server. Well, O.K., sometimes it forgets it has stuff, as in “What iTunes?” But I restart it and then it says, “Oh, THAT iTunes.”

When I was growing up, my father and family called staircase banister supports “spindles” rather than balustrades. Here at our house, Emma held onto those spindles with a grip normally reserved for grabbing wayward kids by the nape of the neck – that would be my brother and me – in preparation for our flogging. Well, O.K., it was a slim, red patent leather belt. But our grandparents used a cat-o’-nine-tails to flog our parents. That’s what our parents told us. One time when Emma was about 8, Nana was chasing Emma round and round the dining room table with this instrument. Look, at least it wasn’t a Catherine wheel. Emma stopped dead and started laughing. “What are you laughing at?!” demanded Nana. “Ha-ha-ha!” said Emma. “You look like an old witch.”

Amazingly, Emma has lived to be 97.

Late this summer, when Emma could no longer climb the stairs, we put her in the hospital bed, already set up in the living room, where she stays most of the time now. Since then, I have observed a notable decrease of muscle mass in her arms and legs. Emma’s legs, in particular, look like very old people’s legs: they look like spindles. Up until this point, she always had amazing muscle definition in her calves and arms for someone her age, I thought.

Now the legs of our teacup poodle, Jetta, have become weak as spindles. She has been in pain for some months. She is 11. I took her to see the veterinarian last summer and the only thing the vet could find was a loose tooth, which she pulled. But, Jetta continued to be in pain much of the time, often as if she had a headache. Then about two weeks ago, she started to skid on the vinyl floors, stumbled up and down the steps and now staggers or walks on a diagonal, like she’s drugged, walking sideways, like a crab. Sometimes she staggers and rolls over, especially if she spots a nice kitty cat and tries to chase it. Yesterday, during our nor’easter, Jetta walked out onto the grass, rolled onto her side and just laid there on the wet grass. I had to stand her up. Today she moves better. Sometimes she just stands there as if someone conked her on the head and she is stunned. I took her back to the vet’s this week, and the vet told me what I suspected, that she’s probably got a neurological disorder likely caused by a brain tumor. There’s no way to know for sure without a $5,000 MRI. So, Jetta is on an antibiotic and prednisone to reduce inflammation. “It’s a Band-Aid,” said the vet. This illness could progress slowly or quickly, paralyzing her in a matter of months. I am watching her closely. The question is who is going to go first, Emma or Jetta? Emma would miss Jetta – she remains aware of the presence of her little dog; and Jetta would be lost without Emma. Jetta is Emma’s dog; Emma got her when she was a puppy, and having bred and raised toy poodles – one a champion –, personally trained and groomed Jetta. For now, therefore, I believe the “Band-Aid” treatment is the best solution. If Jetta seems to be suffering much, then we will have to put her to sleep. Sweet dog, she is – patient and sensible, feisty, with a sense of humor. Jetta watches everything our health aides do and I tell them she writes up notes after they leave. When the aides aren’t here and I bumblingly do something for Emma, Jetta watches closely and it would appear slaps her paw to her forehead and goes, “Oh, no, no. Oh, you’re making an awful mess.” Despite her malady, yet she watches.

I have to watch myself, too. Since our family doctor retired this spring, I have no personal doctor. Finding a good one could take weeks, months, years, if I have time. Emma has had some real doozies – the Princess Doctor who came from Hospice dressed to the teeth and unwilling to do anything but sit neatly in our living room chair – I think she expected me to serve her tea and cakes; and another doctor, prior to Hospice, who couldn’t remember anything – at every office visit I had to correct the inaccuracies in her records. Scary. That’s why I like dogs: they keep accurate records – their noses remember everything.

There was Kolia, my Siberian husky/wolf/German shepherd mix, black with blue eyes and white trim. Let me just point out, it’s disconcerting to have a dog who is smarter than you. How did he know that when I pulled the pink towel from the stack in the linen closet that he must run and hide under the bed so he wouldn’t get a bath? Is it certain that dogs don’t perceive color? If so, then that’s quite a nose. Kolia has been gone since 1984, yet I miss him still. I could write a book about him and his antics. When he was a puppy we lived in an apartment with a little hill in front of it that rose up to the street. We were playing outside and he started to run down the hill to me. He stumbled and rolled over – and over and over all the way down the hill. He thought it was fun and went up and did it again. I could swear he was laughing. Or, at least snickering out the side of his mouth. Often he did that.

I left a roast on the stove after slicing and serving it and we sat down in the other room to eat. “Oh-h-h, for me?” said Kolia. He lifted the whole roast out of the pan and set it on the kitchen floor where I found him eating it. Yes, The Kitchen: dog’s favorite place and mine. As I stated in Chapter IV, “Why Salmon Salad and Mozart,” I like to eat.

Here, then, is a recipe that will put meat on your spindles – Butternut Squash Soup. I created this the other night and it is so-o-o good, French chefs, step aside:

Note: I don’t measure, usually; so these measurements are approximate. It’s more like a little bit of this and a lot of that; whatever I have on hand that works.

1 butternut squash, baked whole, for about an hour at 400 degrees, until the meat is very soft, then cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded
1 small, thin sweet potato, about 5 inches long, baked, and then skin discarded
1/3 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large, red “A” potatoes, skin on, chopped
Generous splash of extra virgin olive oil into a large soup pot
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of dried chili pepper flakes
Generous amount of granulated garlic or 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 12-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, cut in two to fit in the pot
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
1/2 pound of butter, unsalted
24 ounces of chicken broth (I use Imagine brand)
Vegetable broth – here I used about 1/3 cup of artichoke broth left from an artichoke I steamed and then saved the broth in a Mason jar in the fridge
3 cups of low-fat buttermilk (make sure the kind you buy has no additives)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
sour cream
bacon bits (I buy my bacon bits from the supermarket salad bar)

Splash olive oil into the pot, add onion, red potatoes, salt, pepper flakes, garlic and rosemary. As onion and potatoes soften and the oil cooks down, add the butter.

When the butter melts, add the vegetable broth, chicken broth and most of the thyme.

Bring to a boil and then simmer until the vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes. Remove the rosemary and discard.

Let cool a bit. Then add soup mixture to a blender together with spoonfuls of cooked squash and sweet potato, and brown sugar; puree. When you run out of enough liquid to operate the blender, add buttermilk, until when you’ve pureed all the soup ingredients, you’ve added about 3 cups of buttermilk. (If you have a hand blender that you can just stick into the pot, all the easier.) These amounts of liquid will vary according to the amount of solid ingredients. The desired end is for the soup to be thick and rich.

Place the pureed soup back into the pot, heat, and add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

Serve in soup bowls topped with a generous dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves and bacon bits. Serves 4-6.

One of the many benefits of having a dog is that they vacuum the kitchen floor when you’re done cooking. They also take sandwiches out of little kids’ hands. ~

Music comes to us on spindles, too – in the form of compact and vinyl discs.  Rock musician Daryl Hall has a country house kitchen where he and fellow musicians play music that they perform for the Internet. He started this website a few years ago, “Live from Daryl’s House.” Now he has syndicated this music camaraderie for TV. He and his fellow musicians play songs, tell stories about their musical adventures and musician friends and they invite a chef in, prepare food and eat it, sharing the recipes with us viewers. It’s like he’s created a musical blog from his house. He’s such a regular guy, it’s like you’ve gone over to your neighbor’s house and sat in. This is so cool, especially if you like the Philadelphia sound, as I do. In this episode for which I’ve provided the link is a fresh garden salad that you can eat with your butternut squash soup. I always wondered what to do with that old, hard loaf of bread. This chef shows us.


–Samantha, October 30, 2011