Home for the Holidays


My apartment is really small. It’s four floors up. It has been known to house unexpected wildlife. The rent is more than most people’s mortgage. And still, my boys come home.

Young Matthew was first back to the city this year, down from UVM while his brother was toiling with finals at Ithaca. Matty’s only request? “Can you make me a home-cooked meal, Dad?” Be still my Epicurean heart.

Matty has gone MV (Mostly Vegetarian) since his time up at Vermont, though the occasional piece of fish is allowed on the menu. Still my mind goes to new places when I am cooking for him. I am a dyed in the wool tartare-arian but it is like a bright glimmer of harvest sun that colors my thinking. Tonight’s baseline was…gnocchi.

I happened upon a product I had never seen before at the store – precooked little doughy pillows of goodness – so now it was just how to adorn them. This call to culinary creativity of course begged for a thoughtful red. I am partial to South African Pinotage and a boldly designed label. Fortunately I had both on hand.40b08fb0-bacd-4337-952d-37f1e5ac0f42After a few relaxing moments and some straight ahead jazz on WBGO, I came up with the answer. A box of mushrooms and a hunt through the fridge. Call me The Simplicist. I know people like elaborate recipes and celebrity cookbooks. They get their iPads out and Hey Google this and Alexa that. Me, I rummage and fry.


I eat alone most nights. My wife lives in Chicago and I’d be surprised if she’s spent two weekday evenings total in my apartment in the past 14 years. Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow and the flailing New York Knicks are my usual dinnertime companions. I get home from the gym around 10, pour a whisky or a wine and I read before I cook. My latest Everest of missed volumes is the collected works of M.F.K. Fisher. Her writing is of another generation and yet as timeless as appetite or a good single malt. I unearthed this in the 50th anniversary edition of her collected works, “The Art of Eating.”

I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

It’s nice when my boys come home. We sustain each other.


You can follow Ken Carlton’s annual cross country Christmas gallivant on Instagram @mrswagnerspies

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