Cooking Apps are all the rage these days. If you don’t own an iPhone or a computer (how are you reading this??!) you’re probably wondering: “What’s a cooking app?” Basically, it’s an application that you can download that aids you in your cooking. So there’s Michael Ruhlman’s wonderful Ratio app which calculates precisely how much butter and sugar you need if you have X amount of flour in order to make a batch of cookies. That’s really cool. And then there’s Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything” app which Matt Armendariz writes about here. There’s also one from Epicurious, one from Martha Stewart and more and more cooking apps on the way now that the iPad’s here. But which one do I use most often in my kitchen? The answer may surprise you.
I have to credit my friend Benson who told me about this app over IM. I suppose it’s time to come clean–the app has nothing to do with cooking, but it’s now my constant companion in the kitchen: it’s the “This American Life” app for the iPhone. It costs a shockingly low $2.99 and for that you get the entire “This American Life” archive right there in your pocket; every episode from its 15 year history. It’s pretty remarkable.
In case you don’t know about “This American Life,” it’s a beloved radio show, hosted by Ira Glass, that delves deep into the lives of various subjects. The show lasts an hour and it’s usually structured around a theme. For example, this weekend I listened to an episode called “The Parent Trap”–which the app describes as “stories about parents setting accidental traps for their children and sometimes for themselves.” The two stories in this episode were so gripping (one about a mom, dying of cancer, who writes letters for her daughter to read on various birthdays after she dies; the other about a scientist who raises a chimpanzee as a human being) I took an extra long time making the banana bread I was making, just to make sure I’d be there for the end.
Hooking up my phone to the speaker you see in the above picture and turning on “This American Life” is like suddenly having a friend there in the kitchen chatting with you while you cook. It’s kind of amazing. And, by the time dinner is ready, you might be elated, devastated, confused, angered, or exhilarated–just like you would after a profound conversation.
So that’s my new best friend in the kitchen, my favorite cooking app. If you download it, start with the Favorites category and listen to the episodes “Notes on Camp” and “Babysitting.” You’ll be so absorbed, you’ll accidentally do all the dishes–even though it’s not your turn. It’s that powerful.
P.S. I just remembered that in 2007, The Boston Globe reviewed my book and called me: “Skinny and nebbishy, with a nasally musical theater voice that would fit perfectly on NPR’s ‘This American Life.'” At the time, I’d never listened to it, but now I take that as a huge compliment. Especially the “skinny” part.