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!