art by Void lon iXaarii
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
I'm not the one who should get the family recipe. It has passed from mother to daughter for more generations than anybody can count, and I'm a son, not a daughter. But my three sisters didn't have the vision to read the writing on the family recipe page, and I did, so Mom was stuck with training me to make the solstice cakes.
I'm seventeen, and I was looking forward to running away to the Western Culinary Institute next year, partly to get away from Dad, who says these things that sound like compliments but aren't, like, "Nice quiche, Zach. Very flavorful. Who knew you had it in you?" I've been interested in cooking since I was nine, so he should know I had it in me by now.
He said things like that about my songwriting, too. "What a cute little jingle. Maybe you could write songs for ads." When I heard that, something inside me crumpled like paper smashed in a fist. I stopped playing my songs for the family after that. I took my guitar out to the woods and recorded my songs on my phone instead, and only shared them with my sister Mora, who smiled or cried at the right times and always told me they were great.
When Mom told Dad at dinner that I was going to get the family recipe, his cheeks flushed. He stared at me from under lowered brows, his mouth straight. His shoulders sagged. Then he got up and left the room.
He didn't even mock me about it.
On the winter solstice, Mom and I got together in the kitchen. We washed and put all the dishes away and scrubbed off the stove and the inside of the oven. Then Mom smudged with a white sage bundle she'd put together earlier in the season, when she had time to go to the desert and gather the sage, and I used a fan to direct the fragrant smoke to every corner. We'd done this together before. We'd cooked and baked together since I was nine. She had taught me most of what I knew.
When it came time to make the solstice cakes, we stared at each other. She'd always had it in her head that this was only for girls, and I'd believed that all my life, too. We stood on either side of the butcher-block table, a mixing bowl in front of each of us, and ingredients in a line down the middle of the table. The vellum recipe page lay sideways so we could both see it.
I glanced at the recipe, then looked at the things laid out between us. "Which one is the starlight? How do you even collect that?"