Man in the Kitchen: Can Parallel Lives Run on the Same Track?

Man in the Kitchen: Can Parallel Lives Run on the Same Track?

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parallel lives
Photo: Jonathan Pendleton/Unsplash

Three wise women of no small faith once told my wife she was blessed and lucky. It was early in our relationship, and I did not know quite what to make of it. She is a professor whose work in HIV prevention has helped bring health and self respect to young women in underserved populations in places like Rwanda and Indonesia. I knew her work was vitally important, but could I possibly be anything more than a bit player to someone whose life was “blessed and lucky?”

Those are two words I usually don’t associate with myself. When I am not writing, thinking about or cooking food, I am busy hawking unsold novels and screenplays, mining new words for hopeful pieces, or plying my corporate speechwriting trade to put dinner on the table for my two teenaged boys. They are tall and hungry. So am I. Hungry is not a word I’d use to describe my wife. Things come easily to her. Not so much so for me, or any creative for that matter.

So how do two people living under one marriage make emotional ends meet when their careers operate on such separate tracks?

This is relatively new turf for our generation. In the community where I live, it’s rare to find a one-paycheck home. Our wives and partners are deeply committed to their jobs, careers and passions. The money may not always be 50/50 (yet!), but the investment is. Which runs the risk of leaving gaping holes in the day-to-day schedule. Who gets home in time to make dinner for the kids? Which parent skips out of work for the teacher’s meetings? How do you decide if that career move to Paris/London/Hong Kong is the smart one, when so much is at stake?

parallel lives - ken Carlton
Photo: Jane Carlton

I used to think power struggles in a modern relationship deferred to the biggest breadwinner. My wife has tenure. I have manuscripts. She gets paid every other week. I get paid when the literary stars align. Speaking on behalf of the lion’s share of the male race, this runs the risk of creating turbulence. Even when the bank accounts differ, we want to be treated as equals. However, while it might be in our caveman DNA to keep up with our spouse, one has to ask: does whipping up a decent risotto technically equal “support?

Men are often accused of not listening. There is some truth to this. We can be emotionally tone deaf. No matter how many times my smart, sexy Ph.D. tells me that I give as much to her as she does to me, it sometimes feels as if the balance sheet is off. However, I recently had an epiphany when a major honor was bestowed upon her – Researcher of the Year – at the university where she works.

parallel lives : Ken Carlton and family

On the day of the ceremony, I shepherded our four kids to the auditorium where a dozen of the geekiest, coolest, most brilliant people I have ever met accepted their honors. When my wife took the stage, she spoke about the work she does and the communities she serves. My eyes welled up. I realized I was blessed and lucky. I’d gotten a second chance in marriage AND found a partner who despite her 80-hour work weeks and 100,000 air miles per year, loved my children like her own. Her research award came with a stipend, enough of an amount to make a difference in our lives. So what did she do with the money? Asked each one of our kids to pick a charity and gave it all away to people who needed it more than us.

parallel livesSometimes blessed and lucky can make an appearance in the last place you’d expect. I thought my contribution to our family dynamic had to be in the form of a three-book deal. Never did it cross my mind that all those nights Skype-ing 9,000 miles away to Kigali made any difference at all. My wife was having the fun. I was just feeding the kids. How could you put a price tag on that? It was only when I heard her words at the end of her acceptance speech (she called me “her everything”) that I realized:

… love transcends paychecks. The support you provide your partner pays off in dividends you can hardly imagine. My wife makes a difference in others’ lives. We are making a difference in hers.

It’s a little bit of a complicated equation, but at the end of the day it all balances out. Like the Beatles said, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.


Mushroom Risotto

This recipe is especially fun to prepare as a family. The 30 minutes of occasional stirring creates a remarkable alchemy of rice and flavor, and our kids thought it was really cool!

parallel lives - mushroom risotto
Photo: Jane Carlton

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 pound sliced mushrooms
  • Pinch of thyme, oregano or Herbes de Provence
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp truffle oil
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese

Method:

  • Get your chicken broth nicely warm in a medium saucepan and keep at low heat
  • Sauté half the diced onion and half the minced garlic in 1 tablespoon oil
mushroom risotto
Photo: Jane Carlton
  • Add the mushrooms, herbs and butter, salt and pepper, and sauté down for 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and save for the grand finale
  • In a separate large saucepan or stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons oil and sauté the rest of the onion and garlic
  • Add the rice and stir thoroughly to coat it. Sauté about a minute, but do not brown or toast
  • Stir in wine, and cook until it is all but evaporated
  • Add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook at a high simmer until it is absorbed by the rice

    parallel lives - mushroom risotto
    Photo: Jane Carlton
  • Add each additional cup of broth to the mix and stir frequently, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding the next cup
  • When all the broth is used up, and the risotto is firm and creamy, add the mushrooms
  • Stir in Parmesan cheese and cook about a minute more until melted
  • Garnish with pepper and perhaps a single thin drizzle of truffle oil. Feeds plenty!
Ken Carlton
Ken Carlton is an author and screenwriter. He is currently working on the screenplay for his latest novel, FOOD FOR MARRIAGE. He co-authored the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a “dating expert” on Oprah. His television credits include shows on ABC, CBS, HBO and PBS. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has written for President Jacques Chirac and scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Never far from his passion for food, he is producing a documentary on the fishing industry in New England. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago.

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