Thursday, June 4, 2009

Red Robin

My friend Mel asked me If I wanted to grab a burger at Red Robin on Thursday, and I told her that I couldn't because it was the only night that week that I'd have a chance to hang out with Khalil. Then, on Thursday morning, I realized the obvious: burgers are just about Khalil's favorite food, and since Red Robin has amazing burgers and bottomless fries, he'd probably love to join us there. His mom thought it was a good idea.

I picked up Khalil and then my mutant ability to get lost even on the simplest route kicked in. It took probably fifteen minutes for me to find the Garden State Parkway, and then I made two separate wrong turns off Route 46. We finally pulled into Red Robin a few minutes later than my original estimate, and about twenty-five minutes later than the revised estimate I gave after reaching Khalil's house early. *Sigh*

We met Mel and ordered. Khalil got a chicken sandwich, which surprised me, because I expected him to get a burger like me and Mel. I'm certainly not complaining, though, as chicken is healthier.

Mel and I chowed down on the bottomless fries, finishing off at least two baskets before the sandwiches arrived. Wow, I should not eat anywhere that offers bottomless anything, because I'm sure I lapped Mel a few times. I told Khalil how Mel is a personal trainer, which he seemed to find interesting. There's no question about whether he likes Red Robin, though; he made a few comments about how the food was the best.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

X-Men and Bakugan

Tonight we just chilled out with some cartoons. Of course it's not like when I was a kid, when you had to - you know - wait for the cartoons to come on. No, now there's TV on demand. Khalil navigated the menus with the remote and, probably figuring I'd like it because we've talked a lot about Wolverine, he chose one of the early episodes of "X-Men Evolution".

I got quite a kick out of this cartoon. Many of the elements of the comic books that I read for years were in it, but it had been shaken up enough to make the differences interesting. For example, most of the characters are very young. More shockingly, Colossus was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! The only thing that really bothered me was that just about all the characters sounded like they were teens or twentysomethings from Long Island. Ororo (Storm) was an African who was orphaned and spent the early years of her life as a street urchin in Cairo! She shouldn't sound like a some girl I'd hear on the New Jersey Transit! Oh well. The Sentinel was really cool. It reminded me a lot of the Iron Giant.

After that was over, Khalil put on Bakugan. Oh boy. Way to make me feel old, Khalil. I felt exactly like those parents in the South Park episode Chinpokomon: absolutely baffled. Well, not really baffled as such, just overwhelmed with the hyperkinetic visuals and the barrage of jargon.

Basically the show is about kids who engage in gladiatorial combat using their Bakugan - little spheres that morph into enormous creatures - as proxies. The creatures have intrinsic powers which can be augmented. All the creatures and the tricks you can play with them reflect cards. Cards that kids can buy. Cards that the makers of the show WANT KIDS TO BUY A LOT OF RIGHT NOW. Get the point?

Well, I'm sure I would've liked it lo, those many years ago when I was Khalil's age. What kid wouldn't enjoy the fantasy of having a super-powered magical pet that you can carry around like a talisman, waiting for the moment when its powers are needed? Anyhow, it's always nice to have Khalil share his interests with me.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spring Shearing!

My friend Karen belongs to a yarn CSA called Hudson Valley Fiber Farm. A few months previously she told me about the upcoming spring shearing. When I noticed that friends and kids would be welcome, I got excited because based on Khalil's reaction to the dog park I thought that he would also enjoy meeting the sheep and goats. Also, it would be a potluck event, and Khalil and I are both foodies. I asked him and his mom about it, and we all agreed that it was a good idea.

Grace and I picked up Khalil and, as we made our way north, we all nibbled on the broken ginger scones in the double batch I'd made that morning. The ninety-minute drive went very quickly for me because Khalil and I were, as usual, talking comic books and movies the whole time. I'm afraid it wasn't quite as enjoyable for Grace, but she did get a kick out of seeing how Khalil and I were apparently separated at birth.

Our timing was spectacular: a minute or two after we arrived, Susan announced that they were about to start the sheep shearing! We made our way over to the other side of the house where they'd set up a tarp in back of the sheep trailer. You can see what we saw next by watching the video on this page of the farm blog. If you watch closely, you'll see Khalil for about two seconds right near the beginning.

If you watched the video you'll know that the shearing was quite an experience. I felt bad for the sheep as it got nicked with the shaver, but it really wasn't much different from the shaving nicks I get from time to time. After the second or third sheep, the group decided that it was time to eat.

Khalil's first order of business was to put two of my ginger scones on his plate. See what a mean about the "separated at birth" thing? Along with everyone else, we loaded our plates with delicious food. The spread was so extensive that we couldn't even come close to trying it all. Susan alone made two ten-pound pans of macaroni and cheese! And that was a tiny portion of the entrees and desserts that were piled on the tables.

Khalil quickly made his way up to the pen with the young goats, and that's where he happily stayed for most of the day. It did my heart good to see how gentle he was with the animals, and how they captivated him. One thing he showed me was really quite fascinating: if you hold the goat's horns while it's chewing a piece of food, you can feel the vibrations traveling up through the jaws and to the horns!

I'm interested in the history of the American Revolution, so I was happy to get a chance to talk a with John, a historical re-enactor who was dressed and equipped as a British soldier from around 1776. He and his wife had set up a tent on the lower lawn, and were telling people about the war and showing them the equipment and the methods of fabric making used at that time.

I had to get Khalil home all too early. Next time I'm going to make a whole day of it, and we won't miss the bonfire like the one that they had later that day!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A walk in the parks

I had asked Khalil if he wanted to take a walk to one or both of the parks in his neighborhood, and he thought that sounded like a good idea. First we visited the one he'd already been to: Elmwood Park. I was happy to find a pullup bar, but the moment I tried doing a full pullup I became very unhappy. I'm out of shape.

We swung on the swings, climbed around on the chains and bars and plates of the little playground area. Then we headed west to Orange Park, which I had only seen on Google Maps and Khalil hadn't seen at all. The playground at this park is much more impressive: there are fossil-themed climbing "rocks" attached to a large castle with lots of places to climb up, over, and through, plus bars to slide down and rotating cylinders that make you feel like a log roller.

I think Khalil most enjoyed the... well, I don't quite know what to call them. Picture a vaguely tire-shaped plastic affair with three chains leading up to a swivel joint. You can swing around and spin wildly on this thing. I gave Khalil a little lesson in conservation of angular momentum by showing him how I could get myself spinning and then make myself spin much faster by drawing myself in to the center of the spin as tightly as possible.

It was starting to get dark, and anyway Khalil's school-night bedtime was on the horizon as always, so we made our way north through the park. It's quite an impressive space: baseball fields, basketball courts, and lots of big trees and wide open lawns. We got to Central Ave. and from there it was a simple matter of hanging a right and walking back to Khalil's neighborhood.

We stopped at Carvel for ice cream on the way, and I have to say I was surprised at how good the ice cream was. I got a waffle cone with cookie dough and... butter pecan or something. Anyway, it was much better than I had expected from Carvel. We were both happy with the ice cream in our tummies and our exploration of the neighborhood.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Khalil had to practice a monologue that he has to perform as part of an application to a performing arts school. I don’t know the first thing about acting, but I was always good at memorization, so I helped him a lot with basic memorization techniques. And I gave him some common-sense advice about taking that energy that he was using for pacing in a circle, and use it to try different physical ways of emoting without putting his back to the audience. What a gas! I think that mentoring him is as exciting for me as it is for him.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Khalil's First Homemade Apple Pie!

On Sunday night I called Khalil because I'd been thinking about our last trip to a Nets game: it's safe to say we were both bored, because I know I was bored, and Khalil was falling asleep by the time we were getting ready to leave during the third quarter. So I gave him the option of doing something else the next night. He replied that he would like to do something else, and that he was thinking of making an apple pie. Which really disappointed me because you know how much I hate making apple pies - especially with kids.

On Monday night I got home thirty minutes late because of train problems. I grabbed all the ingredients, kitchen utensils and cookware on the list I'd prepared during the day. This list is shockingly long when you're used to just grabbing the stuff off the wall or out of drawers and cabinets, as opposed to loading it all in the car.

I grabbed ten Granny Smith apples at ShopRite and met Khalil at his place. Since making an apple pie takes a while, and since the train had delayed me, I was in a hurry to get the pie made and in the oven so that Khalil wouldn't be up too late past his bedtime. I didn't want Khalil to be rushing with knives, so I peeled the apples while he started measuring out the ingredients for the crust. I called his attention to the apple quarters I was slicing. Slice thickness is important: too thin, and the pie will have the consistency of applesauce; too thick, and the slices won't cook through the middle. We mixed the apple slices and the dry ingredients into the delightfully gooey jumble I know so well, and set it aside.

Khalil cut the shortening into the flour and salt, and we performed the ritual of adding just the right amount of water: add a tablespoon, wait for it to soak in, repeat until you think you're close, and test the consistency by forming the dough into a ball and trying to clean the sides of the pan with it. Then came the fun part: rolling the crust. "Oops! I forgot my rolling pin. Hey, that rod from the paper towel holder will work! Fun!"

We got the bottom crust into the pan, dumped in the filling, put the butter on top, and put the top crust on. Then I realized that I'd forgotten to put in the pie bird. As I pushed aside a bit of crust and made a hole in the filling so that I could put it on the bottom crust, I explained its purpose to Khalil: it's a chimney that allows steam to escape from beneath the filling. This makes the bottom crust nice and flaky, since there's less moisture soaking into it.

We'd started the oven early, but it hadn't heated up properly. By the time we got ready to put the pie in, I knew we couldn't; it never would have cooked. So I covered it with aluminum foil, gave Khalil's mom the recipe with the cooking instructions, and put it in the fridge until such time as she could cook it. Khalil showed me a video game on the Cartoon Network website. Soon I said goodnight so that he could get to sleep.

I spoke to Khalil's mom a few nights later, and she said that Khalil had brought the pie over to her sister's house and cooked it there. Apparently it was a huge hit: it got devoured quickly, and Khalil had been saying how good it was. Yay!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nets vs. Bucks

Khalil had unfinished homework, and anyway I wanted to get him home at a reasonable hour. As it turned out, this was a good game to leave during the third quarter. Unfortunately that was because our guys didn't stand much of a chance of catching up.

The Milwaukee Bucks had excellent teamwork and impressive moves. I don't think they were significantly superior to how the Nets played last time, but tonight the Nets seemed a bit off their game. The Bucks were making a lot of three-point shots like the one shown below. The Nets were doing this sort of thing a lot last time, but not tonight.

The Bucks made plenty of slam-dunks like this one.

The Nets made a few too...

...but in the end they just couldn't keep up. We left about halfway through the third quarter. At that point it seemed highly unlikely that the Nets could catch up. Sure enough, I just checked, and the final score was 107 to 78.

I find basketball to be fairly boring, but there are some aspects to games at the IZOD that make me enjoy it even less. First of all, the graphics on the big screen are an insult to my intelligence. The first time I saw the computer-generated sound meter that jiggles its way up to "MADNESS" as if the audience was going wild, I believed it for about the first two seconds. After that, it just made me sad.

Two other aspects of the game seem to me worse than silly. When the commentator names the Nets player who just made a basket, he sounds enthusiastic, but when an opposing player does it, his voice is the very definition of phlegmatic. Worst of all is the "MAKE NOISE" graphic that pops up onto the screen when an opposing player is taking a foul shot. Trying to break an opponent's concentration strikes me as very unsportsmanlike.

Khalil was falling asleep by the time we left, so maybe I should check in with him. It might just be that he, like me, is thinking of doing something else rather than going to a third game.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Birthday Scones!

Last time Khalil commented that we should make scones again sometime. He had obviously been pining for them, so I figured that another scone-baking session would be just the thing for his birthday.

I brought all the kitchen utensils and ingredients except for the lemon. Khalil's mom didn't have one, but she did have a lime, so we decided to try a batch with lime zest instead of lemon zest. She heated up the oven and we began the preparation. We measured out the dry ingredients, and I showed him how to use the edge chopper to chop the candied ginger. As we took turns cutting in the butter and mixing in the heavy cream with a fork, I once again told Khalil how important it is not to knead pastry any more than absolutely necessary: the pastry cutter and the fork mix in the wet ingredients with the least amount of kneading, which is what gives us the kind of light, flaky pastry that we want.

We zested the lime - Khalil's getting better at using the Microplane zester - and began adding the cream. Not one to pass up an opportunity for pastry preaching, I again instructed Khalil on the importance of moisture conten: in the summer I often only need eight tablespoons of water for a double pie crust, whereas in the winter I sometimes need twelve because the air is so much drier! Tonight I had to add much more heavy cream than the recipe called for before the dough was wet enough to hold together.

We mixed in the ginger, shaped the rounds, patted on a glaze of heavy cream, sprinkled on a bit of sugar, cut the rounds into wedges, buttered the baking sheet, put the wedges on the sheet, popped it in the oven, and set the timer. While the scones were baking I set up gmail and blogspot accounts for Khalil so that I could add him as a contributor to this blog. Soon I hope to instruct him in the basics of blogging.

Once the scones had reached a delicious-looking golden color, we took them out of the oven. While Khalil and his mother made tea, I made a small scone mountain on a plate and stuck in eleven candles. I lit them, and we sang happy birthday as I brought them over to the table. Khalil blew out the candles, I gave him his birthday card, and everyone enjoyed a scone. The general consensus was that the lime was excellent. Although I think I prefer lemon, I agree that the lime is delicious and perhaps even goes better with the ginger. Next time I want to try zesting two limes instead of just one, to make the flavor more noticeable.

All subtleties aside, Khalil had a great time making and eating his birthday scones.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dogs and Dogs

See my Picasaweb album for more pictures from this event. Also check out the YouTube video of Khalil playing with some dogs.

On my way to pick up Khalil I drove by Roberto's and found it closed. I was thinking of taking him to the Millburn Diner after our hike, but then it occurred to me that it was a perfect day for a cookout. Khalil liked this idea, so we went to ShopRite for hot dogs and rolls before hiking up into South Mountain Reservation from the Millburn end. Many other people were out on the paved section, enjoying the beautiful day. After hearing Khalil's enthusiastic reaction to a few dogs we passed, I realized that I'd brought him to the perfect place: there's a big dog park right next to the picnic area in the middle of the park.

We entered the fenced-in area for dogs of any size, and Khalil had a blast watching, and then playing with, the dogs. His favorite dogs are golden retrievers and huskies, and there was at least one of each there. The one he really made friends with, though, was a grey "labradoodle", as his owners called him, who spent quite some time catching and retrieving a tennis ball thrown delightfully by Khalil.

Khalil probably would have played with the dogs all day, but I eventually got us moving toward lunch. We walked over to the picnic area and gathered a little wood. I started the fire while warning Khalil that it's almost never so easy; there just happens to be an abundant supply of dry wood there. I roasted the hot dogs and buns, and we enjoyed them, although I suspect that Khalil is more of a burger fan. Maybe I'll try grilling some of those next time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nets vs. 76ers

See my Picasaweb album for more pictures from this event.

Khalil and I reached our seats in the IZOD Center a few seconds before the game began. Both the Nets and the 76ers began scoring points immediately, and throughout the game they stayed almost neck-and-neck. Although it seemed to me that the Nets were outclassed, the 76ers never pulled ahead by more than a few points. By the fourth quarter I'd developed a theory for this disagreement between the score and my perception of the teams' skills: the 76ers have much flashier close-quarters moves when approaching the net, but the Nets have excellent teamwork and seem to do better from farther out. I think that the Nets didn't score quite as often, but they got more three-point shots.

The game was entertaining enough, considering that I never cared for group sports. I still don't understand what causes all the time-outs; they sure do draw the game out, though. By the time the third quarter was considering leaving early: I was worried about getting Khalil home so late on a school night, and anyway it seemed unlikely that the Nets would close the gap. As it turned out, we were glad we stayed; there were some big surprises in the fourth quarter.

There was a lot of exciting back-and-forth between the two teams, but generally the 76ers stayed just far enough ahead to give me little hope for a Nets win. But, literally at the last second, Devin Harris made the most amazing play I've ever seen. The story and the video interview with Devin Harris will tell you about it better than I could; suffice it to say that it was one of those sports moments that seemed to come straight out of a movie.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hanging out at Roberto's again

It was way too cold to go on a walk, so I took Khalil's to Roberto's to grab some dinner and hang out. As usual, we talked about video games. After we got done eating we read through some of President Obama's inauguration speech. As we took turns reading I explained the subtext to Khalil. This speech has about a hundred unwritten lines to read between every two on the page, and I don't know as much history as I'd like, so this was no easy task. How the heck do you explain to a ten-year-old, in an unbiased way, what Democrats and Republicans are? How do you explain the financial crisis? I guess I'll be getting more practice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Disney on Ice

See my Picasaweb album for more pictures from this event.

Khalil's mom had a coupon for $10 tickets, but we got very lucky and didn't even need them! Just as we got in line a lady walked up to ask if we wanted her tickets, which she was unable to use. We gratefully accepted, and found our seats about ten seconds before the show started. The basic plot of the show is that the Incredibles, some time after the events of the movie, plan a family vacation to Disney World. It doesn't go as planned. Mr. Incredible takes all the animatronics seriously, getting himself into some needlessly heroic situations. Then a robotic duplicate of Syndrome bursts onto the scene at the helm of an Omnidroid. It immediately begins monologging about its plans to take over Disney World. It takes Mickey Minnie hostage, and from there... well, it gets confusing. But hey, it's a kid's show. All we really need to know is that the Incredibles kick the bad guy's butt out of the park.

In addition to the free tickets, I think I also scored a point for good nutrition. I asked Khalil if he liked peanuts and raisins, seeing as how I'd brought a bag of them for each of us. He said "No" so we went over to the concession counters. The only remotely healthy thing they had on sale was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; I gave Khalil the choice between that and a hot dog, and thankfully he chose the sandwich. Later he got curious about the peanuts and raisins, so I gave him one of the bags. In a rather surprised voice he said "These are good!" Score!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Forbidden Kingdom

I'd been looking forward to showing Khalil "Wall-E" so I came over after work with the DVD in my briefcase and the inevitable Roberto's bag in my hand. We split the Italian Cheeseburger and bottle of Sunkist, and sat down in front of the TV. Unfortunately the DVD player didn't like the disc - it didn't even make it to the opening credits. So Khalil showed me one of his favorites: "The Forbidden Kingdom". It was quite intriguing: obviously not meant primarily for adults, it had story elements and special effects that were over-the-top enough for young people to really enjoy, but not enough to turn off an adult who's ready for a popcorn flick. Jackie Chan is every bit as entertaining as usual in a role that reminds me more than a little of his performance in "Drunken Master". I have to admit that, up until looking up the actors just now, I thought that was Jackie under the Monkey King makeup. Not so: it was Jet Li! It's fun watching him, as the Monkey King, being every bit as impish as Jackie. While we watched the movie Khalil once again showed me his Pokémon book. I'm still a bit amazed that the fascination with Pokémon has held on so long.

We only had time to watch about half of the movie because the season premier of "Smallville" was coming on, and Khalil and his mom are fans. Just as I got up to get my jacket, leaving became much harder. The costumes of those mysterious super-powered teenagers seemed strikingly familiar, and just before they said who they were I knew: members of The Legion of Super-Heroes! It was both weird, and a huge gas, to see a television version of those comic characters I've known since my childhood. So that's one more geek point I get to share with Khalil!