So there's this New Yorker cartoon by Pat Byrne from a few years ago. A modern couple stand in their kitchen, tablet and laptop close at hand. The woman stands bemused: "How am I supposed to cook? The Internet is down."
It's a simple observation about modern ways, but it tickled me at the time and it tickles me still. This cartoon pops into my head a lot these days. In no time at all, I've gone from laughing at the sorts of digitally-mollycoddled people Byrne was taking aim at to reluctantly becoming one of them. With my trusty iPad always at my side for any and all household activities, I'm utterly helpless when the router goes all stupid. I am now that helpless woman.
From supermarket shelf to dining table (or let's be honest, sofa) there's not a single aspect of feeding myself and my brood that isn't in some way reliant on swiping and tapping that screen.
It begins at the beginning, with the actual procurement of foodstuffs. Once upon a time, this would've involved going into the Outside World and visiting a shop, a Bosch-esque landscape of people and trolleys and queuing and noise. But not now. Now it's all about the online supermarket shopping.
We're so accustomed to the Amazonian way of doing things, it's easy to take for granted. But the infrastructure behind this little bit of technological magic is vast. As well it should be – the supermarket giants have been perfecting online grocery shopping for longer than you might think.
A little-known slice of online shopping history: in May 1984, the wonderfully-named 72-year-old Jane Snowball ordered margarine, cornflakes and eggs through her television set. She was using a new Videotex system being trialled by Tesco and Gateshead Council to enable the elderly to shop from home. It was all a bit slow and Ceefax-ish, but it was an idea that worked in principle. It just needed technology to catch up with it.
Fast forward thirty years, with home computers and iThingies in every home, Tesco and friends have this whole order-delivery malarky sewn up. We are all Snowballs now. Plus they've got a keen eye on what online shopping can't do – namely convenience shopping – and are filling in those gaps. Having spent decades sucking the life out of the high street with their out-of-town übermarket eyesores, they're now moving into the void they created. They're filling the empty (and presumably relatively cheap) shop units with their own smaller stores. The plan is that you'l get a big order every week or two and then restock the essentials from one of their glorified corner shops between deliveries.
And you know what? It works. Scouring the shelves from the comfort of my own pyjamas it's a rather enjoyable experience, thanks to a variety of really rather nice shopping apps. Aside from an occasional trip to the corner shop for a bottle of milk and an emergency yam, almost all of my shopping happens in the palm of my hand. But that's not all I need the iPad for – it's my own personal Mrs Beaton and scullery maid all in one. Once the nice man from the evil corporation actually turns up with the food, I have to figure out what to actually do with it.
And this is where the app store really comes into its own. It's an endless library of recipes and ideas and pictures of Jamie Oliver tearing things. Pinterest alone provides an endless trail of mouth-watering inspiration that can keep me busy for hours, even if it's just spent staring at pictures of cronuts.
There are healthy tips and dieting apps too, but all of those are completely undone by a single Safari bookmark: pornburger.me, a site dedicated to the most incredible burgers you will ever see. It's horrendous and beautiful. The latest involves … you may want to sit down for this … a maple bacon-wrapped, grass-fed beef patty, covered in cheddar cheese, sandwiched between two apple fritter doughnuts. Mmmm-hmmm.
Generally though, I try to steer towards slightly more traditional, slightly less terrifying dishes (you know, the sorts that don't count doughnuts as ingredients). For example, after some fairly aggressive Googling and perusing of numerous recipe sites, I think I've finally perfected my toad in the hole technique.
Or have I? I keep finding more and more ways to make The Perfect Toad in The Perfect Hole. There is no one way of doing something, there is no definitive recipe, everything looks good. Never mind it being down, the nature of this whole internet fad is that you have access to too damn much information. Choice is paralysing.
So every now and then I put my iPad down (taking care to place my let's-face-it-not-cheap device somewhere where it won't get covered in batter-spatter) and return to the medium I love best: heavy, printy, inky books.
Gone are the text-heavy, dry instruction books that used to dominate this area – the ever-expanding food section of your local bookshop now contains some of the best design, photography and writing out there. Dipping into a title like Polpo's Venetian Cookbook or Canteen's Great British Food is a joy, even if some of the recipes are a bit intimidatingly fancy.
The only problem is, they don't have a search function. As lovely as these books are, sometimes I want to wave my magic iPad at them and find what I'm looking for. If only there were an app for th— oh wait, there is. It's called Eat Your Books. You tell it what books you have, what ingredients you have, and it tells you what recipes you've already got sat on that shelf. It's ace.
See, even when I try to cook without my iPad, I still end up using my iPad. But it's okay, I like that. The kitchen has become this perfect arena where ever-so-useful digital noise and messy lumpy stuff come together, each making the other a bit better. As long as the internet isn't down, of course.
Written for MacUser