For some of us, a hand without a smart phone in it is empty indeed. Others can’t conceive of being that wired. For still others, it’s a brave new world we’re just starting to explore. And not just brave and new—it’s big.

This past January, the number of applications offered through Apple’s online iPhone store reportedly topped 133,000. (For those without such a gadget: these programs are what makes a phone “smart,” something that can help you get through your day.) The total in Google’s Android Market broke 10,000 last September. And there are thousands for BlackBerry and Palm users, too.

Okay, but how many of them are even remotely interesting to someone over age 22? Worse, how many have been downloaded and turned out to be perfectly useless?

For us, the question was simple: Which smart-phone apps are worth it to women like ourselves, and why? For answers, we turned to the WVFC community, asking dozens of women two questions: Which apps can’t you live without? and Which ones are the most fun?

As you might imagine, the ‘Can’t Live Without’ category struck smart-phone bedrock pretty quickly: Google, email, and calendar ruled, with an occasional Facebook or Bloomberg. After that, though, the line between ‘indispensable’ and ‘fun’ started to blur, and what emerged were personal recommendations for much-used, well-loved apps.

And so begins an intermittent series on “Apps We Love.” Prompted by the surprising number of respondents who put their smart phones to work in the grocery store, this first installment looks at apps for food and drink. Based on the feedback in hand, the next article will cover ‘Smart Phone as Swiss Army Knife.’ (A special heads-up to Android, BlackBerry, and Palm users: let us hear from you. So far, the input’s been almost exclusively from iPhone and iPod Touch users, and they’re an enthusiastic bunch. We’d like to present a more well-rounded picture, and for that we’ll need info from you.)

Future topics include favorite news sources and NYC-specific apps. We’d love to cover other city-specific apps—not to mention creativity-sparking apps, favorite games, and useful apps to have on hand for kids and grandkids. But for those, and any other app topics you’d like to see, we’ll need more input. If you’ve got a favorite app of any kind, let us know, and your feedback will become part of later articles.

And now: Food and Drink.

RESTAURANTS

Among the top apps on many lists were restaurant search-and-reserve programs like Urbanspoon, Open Table, and Menupages. (Unless otherwise noted, all apps in this article are free and available at the iTunes App store.) You’ve undoubtedly determined your own favorite restaurant-search app based on full-sized computer use, but there are real advantages to having these programs accessible on the fly. As one dedicated Open Table user explained, “It’s is great if you’re somewhere where you can’t hear and don’t want to try calling.”

FOOD SHOPPING AND PREP

Chef ($2.99). Enter a standing grocery list, then click off each item as you toss it into the basket. “You start establishing a history of what you buy regularly, so there’s less chance of forgetting anything,” says one WVFC reader. Find recipes based on your grocery list: If you’ve typed in ‘blueberries’ and click on Recipes, it’ll give you one for blueberry cream muffins. Don’t like what you’re seeing? Give the phone a shake and Chef will come up with another recipe using the same key ingredient.

Epicurious. Epicurious works much like Chef, but with a crucial difference: it’s got the muscle of Condé Nast and the late, lamented Gourmet behind it. That means you have access to more than 30,000 recipes, including the contents of The Gourmet Cookbook. Pick a recipe and the app will post the required ingredients to your shopping list. “Sometimes I find myself standing in front of the fish counter,” writes one respondent, “scrolling through scallops recipes…” Once you’re in the kitchen, flip the iPhone to horizontal to read the recipe more easily as you cook.

Whole Foods Recipes. You guessed it—recipes linked to a shopping list feature, but with a healthy twist. “Say a guest is coming to dinner who has to limit her sugar intake, or doesn’t eat dairy or gluten,” writes one busy mom. “No problem. Just use the ‘Special Diets’ filter, and you still get several recipe options that comply with your friend’s picky eating. Epicurious and Chef apps do more or less the same thing—I have those, too—but I like the health emphasis of the Whole Foods site.”

DRINKS

So far, only one of our respondents mentioned a drinks-related app, but as far as she’s concerned, it’s indispensable. If you have others, we’d love to hear about them.

Wine Enthusiast ($4.99). “My most-used, can’t-live-without app,” writes our aspiring oenologist. “I go to the store, pick a bottle, look up the review. I once put one back after the review used the words ‘feline aroma.’ Saved!”

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