Story by Ashley Van Buren

Over the past year, my sister has been calling and emailing me asking for recipe ideas. She owns a few cook books, but most of the calls have been about family recipes: “Grandma never put oregano in her sauce, did she?” my sister would ask. Or, my personal favorite, “What ingredients do I need for that crazy chocolate cake with the coffee and mayonnaise in it that dad makes?” We don’t have a lot of these “heirloom recipes,” that will be passed down through the generations, but the ones we do have are coveted. My sister and I have also added some newer ones into the fold, via links we’ve emailed to each other with virtual margin notes beneath, “We made this last night, but I used two lemons instead of one. Much better that way.”

With our virtual recipe exchange growing daily, I began to imagine having all of these recipes in one place. The cards written out in my grandmother’s hand; dinner ideas torn out of old magazines; signature dishes we’ve made up, but never bothered to write down, and all of those links. I began to collect every recipe to compile a family cookbook. I scanned the cards and grease-stained pages of old cook books whose sewn seams you could see through the cracks in the binding, and of new ones I’d only recently cracked open. I searched my inbox and followed all of those links to print out the recipes. Then, I organized everything by course (from drinks and appetizers to dinner, side dishes, and desserts). I crafted a front and back cover and called it, “What’s For Dinner?” The book turned out beautifully, but something was missing. I realized I wanted a copy of my own. I also wanted to give one to my parents and share some recipes with friends. I wanted something we could all add to as our families grow. Since the inspiration for the cookbook came from the internet, I returned to the source.

Using Powerpoint, I turned my homemade cookbook into a virtual one that I burned onto a disk or sent directly to each recipient via Dropbox. I added even more recipes and linked them directly to the source on every site. Our favorite basic risotto recipe from Jamie’s site; the kale salad I’ve shared with over a dozen friends and written about on my Jamie Oliver blog; and even linked to a video of a favorite recipe from my friend, Gesine. I wrote an introduction to each recipe telling where it came from: a vegan friend in California posted this one on Facebook; a recipe from one of my favorite authors posted by a lovely blogger-friend in Kansas; I created this recipe as a thank you to a virtual friend who initially tweeted a link to the post for the job I now hold on Jamie Oliver’s website. I even added a page in the book of “Foodies to Follow” on Twitter, linking directly to their accounts.

The virtual version of “What’s For Dinner?” was like adding yeast to dough. It made the recipes rise. Words were accompanied by “how-to” videos, pictures from family dinners, the recipe cards could be zoomed in on — I noticed details in my grandmother’s handwriting that were not evident to my naked eye (including the fact that a measurement was written so small, I was able to see we had been using the incorrect amount of flour in a bread recipe). The “e” version of the cook book didn’t take long to put together (seven hours total spread out over the course of a week or so) and now I can take it with me no matter where I am in the world. A few keystrokes or a touchscreen will bring me right to my mom’s Italian Chicken Peasant Dish or my grandmother’s Banana Bread Loaf. My sister also adds to the virtual cook book in our shared Dropbox folder. I get a little update when a file has been added and I pop into the folder to see what new dish she’s discovered and is (hopefully) making for our next family dinner.

This post was brought to you in partnership with Intel, cooking up innovations that allow us to connect with our past, present, and future, byte by byte.

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