Book Bites: Press Start to Play with Nicole Feldringer

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell's | Free Reads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s | Free Reads

Book Bites is Cooking the Books‘ more easygoing sibling. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite.

I’m so excited to introduce Nicole Feldringer on Book Bites. We’ve known each other a long time, and beta-read for each other for almost exactly that long. Nicole is funny, brilliant, and gets climate better than almost anyone I know. Which is why her story in Press Start to Play, “Outliers,”  resonates — because it’s about gaming (which I love) and cheez-its (ah, my delicious orange former-friends), but it also has a depth to it that is carved from years of experience.  Welcome, Nicole, to Book Bites!

Book Bites with Nicole Feldringer

Press Start to Play, edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams, is an anthology of science fiction stories inspired by video games. With a knockout table of contents, the games in these stories range from text-based adventures to first-person shooters, dungeon crawlers to horror games. And the food ranges from beef bowls to PowerBars, IV drips to perfect pieces of apple pie that disappear, untasted, into your avatar’s stomach.

In the foreword, Ernest Cline, author of the novel Ready Player One, likens gamers to hunter-gatherers, seeking to fulfill fundamental human needs in the virtual world. Indeed food is an intrinsic part of simulation video games, as many of us learned to our dismay in Oregon Trail and as Robin Wasserman reminds us in “All of the People in Your Party Have Died.” You purchase supplies, ford and/or float rivers, and roll ever westward. Survival depends on the choice of squirrel versus buffalo meat, though wheezy Keith Stoneapple still succumbs to cholera no matter how many times you play.

The trope of the addicted gamer who neglects to eat and drink is turned to eleven in Jessica Barber’s heartbreaking story, “Coma Kings,” in which a girl desperately tries to reconnect with her sister by sending her game requests. S.R. Mastrantone’s “Desert Walk” explores the secret history of a game in which nothing happens, or at least nothing is supposed to happen. As the note included with the game says, “Enjoy the game, but not too much. Don’t forget to eat!”

These and other stories in the anthology present a spectrum of relationships between food and gaming. Games can be a portal to escape the real world, to the detriment personal health and wellbeing, as is interrogated in Rhianna Pratchett’s haunting “Creation Screen,” and they can serve as a way to connect with it, via economic and ecosystem role-playing. The latter being the sort of real-world problem solving advocated by game designer Jane McGonigal.

In my own story, “Outliers,” Esme Huybers-Smith is a gamer who becomes obsessed with crowd-sourced climate modeling of global warming. While the following noodle dish doesn’t appear in the story, its culinary cousin ramen does. This is one of my go-to weeknight meals, and is endlessly adaptable. The recipe creator calls the dish Otsu, which means in Japanese “something strange, quaint, stylish, chic, spicy, witty, tasty, or romantic.” I think Esme would approve.

Outlier noodles
Recipe adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson
Serves 4

  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned brown rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

In a small bowl, combine above dressing ingredients excluding oils. Drizzle in the oils while whisking. Set aside.

  • 12 oz dried soba noodles
  • 12 oz extra firm nigari tofu
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Cook the soba in boiling water until just tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water. While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu. Cut into rectangular slabs and pat dry, then cut into domino-sized pieces. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the tofu and fry undisturbed until golden, a few minutes per side. Don’t overcook the tofu or it will get dry and hard.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, cilantro, green onions, cucumber, and dressing, and toss until combined. Add the tofu and toss gently. Serve garnished with sesame seeds.


feldlNicole Feldringer holds a PhD in atmospheric sciences and a master’s degree in geophysics. In 2011, she attended the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop, and her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Sword & Laser Anthology, Press Start to Play (Vintage, 2015), and Loosed Upon the World (Saga Press, 2015). She currently lives in Los Angeles. Find her on Twitter @nicofeld and at nicofeld.com.

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