Man in the Kitchen: Teach Your Children Well

Man in the Kitchen: Teach Your Children Well

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© Ken Carlton

When my wife and I divorced nearly two decades ago, I was cast adrift in a dark maw of profound uncertainty with, among other things, substantial debt, two unfinished novels, a cloudy employment future, and two very young children. The money and career stuff? Pshaw! Most anyone can burrow out of those rabbit holes. But raising two kids on my own? That struck terror in my heart.

The boys, aged 4 and 6, and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment and set up shop. We assembled the bunk beds, established the school and parental switch routines, and hunkered down for the long run. I landed a bunch of corporate work, hired an after-school helper, and threw myself into the task at hand. Fun, not to mention dating, seemed a remote possibility. Until the day I embraced the kitchen as our friend.

Man in the Kitchen Ken Carlton raising his two sons in New York City. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cooking has always been my comfort zone. Why not invite the boys into this familiar world, especially when everything else in our lives felt as foreign as the Serengeti?

I am an inveterate midnight diner, so we established dinner-time as a late-night affair. Homework. Cocktail hour. Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Then dinner. Prefaced with pretzels and carrots for them, and cheap blended scotch on the rocks for me, we took to the range.

I taught them how to smash garlic and chop an onion. Boil water. Pound a chicken breast. Season a roast. Our tastes skewed simple. The youngest favored Da-da home-spun mac & cheese. The eldest preferred my pan-seared pork tenderloin with a vegetable and Rice-a-roni.

The author’s son whips up a mean family tortellini with Cannellini beans and fresh spinach. © Ken Carlton

None of this was haute cuisine, but it was good eating, and we prepared nearly every meal together. It was as rote as brushing teeth and singing songs at bedtime. We found a routine and we stuck by it. Dinner was often at 9:00 or later, always at a set table with music, and no one flunked out of 5th grade.

By the time they reached high school, I had remarried and they had become fiercely independent New Yorkers. They rode the subway, embraced their extracurricular activities, and adapted to coming home and fending for themselves. Now they are both college graduates and coincidentally, both moving into new apartments of their own. One drives, and the other has got into the restaurant business and rides the subway at 2 in the morning.

Kids give you plenty to worry about. Feeding themselves well is not one of those worries for me.

I would not recommend divorce as a team-building exercise. But I know my ex-wife (also a fabulous cook) would agree – we gave them a love of food and the ability to prepare it. We can’t guarantee all their dreams will come true. But we know they won’t go hungry on the road there.

© Ken Carlton

Tortellini in Wine Sauce

My youngest did a post-college stint with me this winter. He was a decent roommate and an excellent cook. He whipped this up one night as we sipped a crisp chardonnay and chatted about his budding music career.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb./450g cheese tortellini
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Half a stick of butter
  • 1 or 2 bunches of fresh spinach
  • Cannellini beans
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup white wine

Method:

  • In a large pot, boil water and save for pasta
  • In a pan, heat oil to medium and sauté chopped garlic
  • Add several tbsp of beans
  • Add a half dozen or so tomatoes
  • Throw pasta in water for 3-5 minutes
  • Add spinach to pan and reduce
  • Add white wine and turn up heat to reduce
  • Add butter & seasoning to taste
  • When just vegetable mixture is creamy and still wet, add drained pasta
  • Toss and serve with Parmesan cheese
Ken Carlton is founder and editor-in-chief of Beyondish, a food review and storytelling website. He is the author or ghostwriter of eight books, including 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. He still muses about food, relationships and parenting at his website, Food for Marriage. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago. You can follow him on Instagram @foodformarriage

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