All Our Recipes

If you close the microwave door too quickly, papers will shake loose from the alcove above it.

The alcove is where coupons, tax bills, sports schedules, cookbooks, and the recipe binder live. My mother’s recipe binder is a flimsy piece of decaled cardboard, the kind you can buy at Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Its metal rings are bent and the cover is peeling, and for as long as I can remember, the binder has always been overstuffed.

Crème brülées pressed against huevos rancheros and bok choi dishes next to the gnocchi. Plastic protectors scattered every couple hundred pages. Most recipes are printed. No handwriting; no illegible index cards. Sauce and oil stains will tell you which recipes get used, which don’t in the same way that the rest of her kitchen is a map. Three jars of turmeric. Pasta sauce cans with expiration dates from the 1990s. Leftover food scraps in the harder-to-reach corner grooves of the baking sheet.

“It’s how I prefer to do it, okay?” she says.

I trace my finger along the top of a soup can. “Sure, but how you can find anything is beyond me,” I say back. “Your brain is an exhausting place.”

“Leave my brain out of it,” my mother replies.

Then I say I would be glad to leave her brain out of it if she could just be more organized. If she were more organized, we never would have lost the shortbread recipe.

My aunt is hoarding my grandmother’s shortbread recipe. I have a vague memory of sitting in my grandmother’s old living room—me in the pink armchair, my mother and her sister on the floral couch, their mother in an antique chair that creaked every time she shifted her small bird-like frame—and the conversation was all about the shortbread. My aunt tried listing each ingredient my grandmother used but my grandmother wouldn’t budge.

“Not until I’m dead,” she would say.

My grandmother won every neighborhood contest with that shortbread. She probably got it off the back of a Tollhouse box.

After my grandmother died, my aunt snuck out the backdoor with the index card my grandmother scrawled the recipe across and now, during every holiday, we endure my aunt’s smug little grin as we eat my dead grandmother’s shortbread cookies.

“I’ll give you the recipe when I die, okay?” my aunt often says.

A few years ago, my mother bought two new binders. Her project was to make a recipe book for my cousin and me. An heirloom. My mother finished one binder within a few months and gave it to my cousin, while I’m still over here, waiting.

“I haven’t forgotten you,” she says. “I’ll just give you my binder, the one in the alcove, when I die. Okay?”

What, exactly, is up with the women in my family thinking an heirloom is best served when deceased?