Phil handed me the three-ring binder like he was handing me a giant sweepstakes check.

It was a red Martha Stewart brand binder with a scaly texture scrawling across the surface.

"What's this for?" I asked.

"Our future," he said.

Phil and I cook together. We research recipes and worship the ground Bobby Flay walks on. Cooking together is how we show we love each other.

I have known Phil for 13 years. I met him when I was 14 and he was 15. The first time I saw him walking down the hallway of Ocean City High School, I had never seen a more handsome boy.

But Phil was dating my best friend. We became friends anyway, bonding over late nights smoking cigarettes at Denny's and doing doughnuts in the parking lot when he got a car. I was happiest when we were goofing off together, wandering around grocery stores, sword fighting in the aisles with mops.

More than a decade later, Phil is now my boyfriend. We have traveled together, survived long distances and laughed together. But I fell in love with him among the flavors of cilantro, lime and garlic.

When Phil bought me the red three-ring binder for our future collection of recipes, I almost felt like he was asking me to marry him. I couldn't imagine saying no.

I made a label for the front that reads "Our Recipes." We have been filling it with recipes for spicy Thai chicken wings, Italian cream cheese pecan cake and his mom's raspberry Christmas cookies.

We talk about what future recipes will eventually earn their place in the binder. We imagine our future house with our future children and future meals together.

"I'm sorry I can't buy you a diamond right now," he says to me often. "As soon as I get that one job, the first thing I'll do is ask you to marry me."

We cook because we can't afford to go out much. We can't find jobs and we still live with our parents.

Phil is a product of the recession. He graduated cum laude from a private school in Boston in 2008 and interned with a television station eager to hire him. But it went bankrupt before he got out of school. He worked retail and applied to anything and everything, but his degree meant little and didn't pay for expensive city rent.

Phil isn't alone. College graduates from the class of 2011 have an unemployment rate of 14 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

He moved home to Ocean City after a year, scrounging for whatever he could find. He fell into managing a movie theater. The company treated him terribly, laying him off and rehiring him at a lower wage several times, all the while promising him year-round work.

Receiving no reply from hundreds of job openings, he now works part-time for minimum wage at an office-supply store with high school kids. This is not uncommon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly half of all college graduates are working jobs that do not require bachelor's degrees. Underemployment is becoming a chronic condition.

It's worse for college graduates at the shore, though. In 2011, the unemployment rate for Atlantic and Cape May counties was almost 13 percent, compared with 9 percent for all of New Jersey. And historically, coastal counties are full of unemployed people who can't find solid, non-seasonal work.

At his office-supply job, Phil found the red binder on clearance and brought it home to me for our recipes, for our future.

It's hard because he thought he would have more than seasonal work after college. It's hard because I'm still in school and can't help financially, though I worry my degree will matter even less than his.

It's hard when Phil is a scary-smart college graduate who carries hundreds of pounds of paper around the office-supply storeroom for minimum wage, while pundits on TV tell us we are the "Entitlement Generation."

Entitled to what? Survival? We should be so lucky.

We don't have money and sometimes it feels like we don't have hope. But for now, we have each other and the red Martha Stewart binder full of our recipes.

Tonight we're making Habanero Hellfire Chili. I wonder if it will make it into our binder.

Sara Knight, 22, of Ocean City, is a communication student at Atlantic Cape Community College.

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