Life every day

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 am participating in the 14th annual Technology, Colleges and Community [TCC2008] online conference Keynote session, “Chasing Squirrels in Online Learning” with Learning Times Founder Jonathan Finklestein. Here’s the speech description.

In this keynote, ‘Chasing Squirrels in Online Learning’, Learning in Real Time author Jonathan Finkelstein will explore unique, real-time online group and social networking activities that take learner engagement to the next level. Find out about innovative learning techniques and facilitation strategies that will open your eyes to what is possible while teaching and learning online.

He began his talk by asking us to reflect on a memorable learning moment. There are 91 participants in this speech and the responses were amazing. My response was, “When a teacher described me in a way I had never thought about. I wanted to be that person.” I didn’t add this point, but I feel to some extent, I am BECOMING that person.

I occurred to me that this is a great exercise for opening our Central Texas Dialogue and Deliberation Summit this Saturday. Do I dare suggest yet another change? It is certainly appropriate given our goal of creating a learning community.

This post sounds like me. I love gadgets, add-ons and upgrades. Toys, Toys, Toys!
clipped from
For them, no gadget is unnecessary, no add-on excessive, no upgrade superfluous. Now, I know this is not just a generational divide. Some people of any age — we all know a few — buy every new gizmo, the more bells and whistles and buttons, the better.
blog it

I’ve never understood why this nation of immigrants never adopted the siesta so popular in many other cultures. Were we just too busy conquering western horizons to stop for nap in the heat of the day?

I’ve discovered that power napping gives me – well, it gives me power. Twelve minutes between about 2:00-3:00 (much later than 3 and I’m groggy the rest of the day) is just enough umph to get me over the afternoon lag.

It’s always 12 minutes. No alarm. My body just seems tuned to that 12 minutes. It’s just enough to reinvigorate me, but not too much so that I’m dragging the rest of the day.

Yep, I’m ready to go the distance after a 12 minute nap.

Well, after that and a cup of chai tea with sweetener and cream. That’s my other afternoon indulgence. I started that in NY last December at my friend Susan’s house. (I also got engaged on that trip, but you’ll have to read Views on Marriage to learn more about that!)

And to make it extra special, I drink it from one of the hand-painted benjarong ceramic cups I brought home from Thailand!

benjarong cup

I’d write more, but I’m late for my power nap.


 It all started when Vickie made Chicken Elegante for dinner two months ago. It’s one of those dinners that is best made a day ahead and reheated. The tarragon in this recipe knocked my socks off. I never thought about tarragon. Hadn’t used it very much and it wasn’t one of the herbs I’ve tried to grow.

But now I’m a huge fan of tarragon and it’s finding it’s way into everything I cook – even canned soup! (Yeah, I confess to the canned soup. But those Campbell Selects are pretty darn good and I don’t always have time to cook from scratch!)

Of course (as is often the case) one thing leads to another. Now that I’ve got a brand new jar of dried tarragon, I’m reminded of how old all of my other spices are. Time to replace them. Who knows what new tastes I’ll be enjoying when I use herbs that haven’t been languishing in the spice rack for years? I may even try growing herbs again this summer!

Chicken Elegante
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T. margarine, divided
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 T. all-purpose flour
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can low-fat cream of chicken soup
1 C canned fat free chicken broth
1 C skim milk
1/2 t. dried tarragon leaves
1 (14-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1 bunch green onions (scallions) chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, heat 1 T margarine until melted over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken and place in an oblong baking pan. In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 T. margarine and saute the mushrooms until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, soup, broth, milk, and tarragon. Season to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook, stirring about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven, add artichoke hearts and chopped green onions. Return to oven and continue baking for 15 minutes longer or until the chicken is done.
Servings: 6-8
Food Fact:
Artichokes contain a phytochemical called silymarin, which is believed to decrease the risk of skin cancer.
Calories: 225
Protein (g): 31
Carbohydrate (g): 11
Fat (g): 5
Cal. from Fat (%): 22
Saturated Fat (g): 1
Dietary Fiber (g): 1
Sodium (mg): 577
Cholesterol (mg): 69

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!

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