Every year, I give my niece and nephew “Tia time” an extended, special time with me, their favorite Tia. (Hey, I was reading Ana Castilla and Sandra Cisneros when they were born and really liked Tia, the Spanish word for Aunt better than “Auntie Taylor”.)

I put lots of thought into these birthday presents and sometimes the kids have to wait months after their birthday to get their Tia time. Becca’s Tia time when she turned 8 (I think) was lunch at Habana Cuban restaurant in Austin followed by a matinee of the Austin Ballet performance of Swan Lake. That present came months after her birthday.

I had been promising to take her to Swan Lake since she was three.

But it took a full five years before a ballet company in Texas finally staged it. In February!

Sometimes I struggle to come up with the perfect “Tia time” gift. For his 12th birthday, Ben and I stayed up late at night watching Ellen DeGeneres’ “Here and Now” comedy video, gossiped like a couple of schoolgirls (ok, my brother is going to hate hearing that!), and then drove up to Ft. Worth the next day to see the Star Wars Exhibit.

So how do I top that for the 13th?

I had to prove that “Tia time” would remain OUR special time even though Tia is now married.

Well, we know Ben loves to cook, so what could be more perfect than a cooking class for our Tia time?

I signed us up for a private session with Chef Denice of Friendship House here in Salado. Ben had promised to cook dinner for me and Terry for our wedding present so he requested a lesson on how to cook a nice steak dinner. Chef Denice knows 13 year old boys so she created a lesson that included homemade ice cream and fire – Steak Diane!

Taking Notes

So our menu included:

  • vanilla ice cream
  • biscotti
  • grilled carrots and asparagus
  • Steak Diane

Chef Denice provided a handout with the recipes for us to keep. Ben was a conscientious student taking notes and learning new techniques.

So here are the recipes and some tips we picked up.

Vanilla Ice Cream


  • 8 oz. egg yolks
  • 12 oz sugar (we learned that real chefs weigh ingredients. That tip cost me $29 for a kitchen scale)
  • 1 qt milk
  • pinch of salt (did you know that there are measuring spoons for pitch, dash, etc. Another $8 at BB&B)
  • i pt heave cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
Slowly adding milk


  • Combine egg yolks and sugar
  • Bring the cream, milk, salt and vanilla bean to a boil
  • Temper egg yolk mixture to the cream misture
  • Cook over medium heat until nape (coats back of wooden spoon)
  • Strain and cool in an ice bath
  • Freeze in machine (on my shopping list at $50)

Almond Biscotti


  • 7 oz. all purpose flour
  • 6 1/4 oz. sugar
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t anise seeds
  • 1/2 t lemon zest (her zester was so much easier to use than mine – $8 at Splendors)
  • 1/2 t orange zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 1/2 oz whole almonds


  • Combine the dry ingredients
  • Add eggs, yolks, vanilla, and almonds
  • Mix or pulse mixer only until the ingredients are combined
  • Shape into a narrow log (about 2″ wide)
  • Bake at 350 until light goldern and baked (about 30 minutes) TIP: turn halfway for even cooking
  • Cool slightly
  • Slice and bake at 325 until dry (about 15 minutes)

Steak Diane

Pre-measured for convenience

Prep time: 10 minutes (if Chef Denice has the ingredients laid out for you!

Cook Time: 6 minutes


  • 4 (3 oz each) center cut beef medallions, trimmed of all fat and pounded to 1/2 inch thick, chilled
  • 1 1/2 t clarified butter
  • 1 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T shallots, copped fine
  • 1/8 t garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c mushroom caps, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 1 T lemon juice, fresh squeezed (I’ve resisted buying the lemon press she uses. I’ll stick with what I’ve got for now)
  • 1 t dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 t thyme leaves, fresh if possible
  • 2 oz heavy cream
  • 1 oz brandy
  • 1 T parsley, chopped (she prefers flat leaf parsley, a habit I’ve adopted, too)
  • 1 T chives, chopped
  • Salt, about 1/2 t or to taste
  • Ground black pepper, fresh ground, 1/8 t or to taste


In a small 8-10 inch saute pan, heat 1T butter over medium for 1 minute. Add the tenderloin medallions, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, increase heat to medium-high and saute exactly 2 minutes on each side. Remove them to a plate and chill in refrigerator for 5 minutes.

Ben Flambe

Preheat a large (12 inch saute pan over medium heat for 1 minutes. Add clarified butter and then add the Worcestershire sauce to the butter. Place the shallots, garlic and mushrooms in the center of the pan with the tenderloin medallions around the edges. With a spoon, stir and toss the mushroom mixture. After 2 minutes, add the lemon juice and season the ingredients with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Turn the steaks and add the thyme, chopped parsley and dried mustard powder. Cook the medallions to the doneness you like. Leave them in the pan and add the heavy cream and chives. Tilt the pan slightly, and pour the brandy into the front edge of the pan, turn the heat to high and let the flame (or if electric, light with a match) catch the brandy’s vapors and ignite it. Swirl slightly, turn off the heat and let the flame go out.

Place the medallions on plates and top with the sauce from the pan.

NOTE: You may want to slightly undercook the medallions prior to adding the cream and brandy so that the reduction process of making the sauce doesn’t overcook them

Grilled Carrots

While Ben was playing with fire, I grilled the carrots and asparagus. I’ve never been a fan of cooked carrots, but they are yummy grilled!

I’ve posted the photos of our day on my Flickr account.

I’d say it was a successful birthday.

Tasty, at least!

And now we dine!

And now we dine!


Terri and Becca went to stay overnight on the Lexington in Corpus Christi and Brent was in NYC. So I did “Tia” duty and stayed with Ben. Unfortunately (actually we decided it was GOOD fortune) he got sick so we spent the day together.

He wasn’t deathly ill so I made him do his math homework while I read two chapters of a colleagues Ph.D. dissertation in preparation for her speech to my class later in the day.

Of course as any parent knows, having a young person doing math in the household means you get into the action too.ben math

Once I won the battle of wits against the typical 7th grader questions about when, why, how algebra (I think it’s algebra. Isn’t that when you mix letters with numbers?) will ever be used, we hunkered down over his math book – it IS algebra; it says so on the cover – and I immediately began to ask myself when, why, how algebra has ever been important in my life.

But then we came to a word problem. I’ve always hated word problems (probably just a reflex), but this one made sense to me. It was about calculating telephone minutes with multiple rates. If the first 25 minutes are $1.01 and every minute after that is .09. How many minutes did Jenny talk if her bill was $9.56?

I know this answer. You take out the $1.01 from the $9.56 to get $8.55 which you divide by .09 per minute for 95 minutes. Then you add back the 25 minutes you took away when you subtracted the $1.01 and the answer is 120 minutes. Voila

But we weren’t off the hook just because we solved the problem.

Oh no!

We had to have an equation!

An equation?

Who needs a friggin’ equation?

We solved the problem.

Poor kid, he’s on his own until his dad comes home!

That was pretty grueling and since he’d been sick the night before, I managed to convince him to nap a 30 minute nap. Personally, I probably needed it more than Ben!

While I facilitated my online Technology, Colleges and Community Conference (TCC2008) and the Civic Entrepreneurship class I teach for the UIUC grad Library School Community Informatics program, Ben was in charge of dinner. But before it was time to start prepping dinner, Ben was right behind me in his father’s office offering words of support and encouragement during my interview with Ellen Knutson a recently appointed Ph.D. who did her dissertation on libraries and civil society. Not wanting to break my concentration on my screen and my introduction on the phone line being piped to my students, Ben resorted to ichatting me from 5′ away.


It’s pretty cool to have a cheerleader in the background while I’m in class!

For ninety minutes, I sat in the family office just across from the kitchen trying to focus on libraries and civil society in Russia while scents of onions and garlic wafted under the door. When class was done, Ben escorted me (with my eyes closed) into the dining room and this is the sight that greeted me.


Ben had made a fabulous dinner of Ratatouille with Gnocchi, and Olive kebobs with Turkey, and Merlot (for me). He had OJ!!!!

Olive oil
red pepper
2-4 crushed garlic cloves
4 small zucchini sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped
1/3 c chopped basil
parmesan cheese
cooked gnocci

Saute onion and garlic. add zuke and tomatoes. Cook about 30 minutes. Add gnocchi

After we cleaned up the kitchen, we watched Ellen deGeneres’ stand up show, “Here and Now” for about the tenth time and took turns reciting the punch lines along with her.

We danced to songs on my iPhone (I even let Ben lead!) and then he went to bed early just to make sure he would be well for school. Pretty good date!


with ben

I haven’t posted here lately because I’ve been busy. My dear friend in High School, Terry Crain is now my love – 33 years later. He lives in Michigan, but will relocate to Texas as soon as he sells his house. We’re keeping our friends and family posted about our plans and soliciting love stories on the “Views on Marriage” Blog.

Join us there!

beeca My niece found out that I was Simpsonized so she did the same for herself. That kid’s a nut!

Next she’s doing one for her brother.
I noticed she only made an avatar which I had to enlarge here. Of course, she’s just making something for her iChat icon, not looking for a real photo. Gads, what a different world it is for her. She’s playing with avatars and iChatting with her Tia at 7:45 in the morning while mom and dad sleep in.