In Search of Sustenance, part one
Sitting still for hours on end poses certain challenges to the human body. Muscles begin to cramp; fatigue sets in; circulation of blood suffers; and other people throw hard objects in an effort to induce movement. I find that most gamers have learned to compensate for these difficulties in one way or another, but there remains one physical hardship with which all gamers must wrestle: hunger. Not the hunger for blood, for victory, or for the next save point; just plain and simple hunger for food. The gamer's desire for food is often particularly fervent and enthusiastic, largely owing to the fact that gaming is one of the few pleasurable activities on this earth to which food -- itself no small pleasure -- may be added without creating a giant mess in the process.
When in the middle of a game and hunger strikes, you've got two options: pause the game to forage for food, or eat while playing. Each of these options fits best with certain situations, depending largely on the type of game being played, the type of gamer doing the playing, and the preferences of other pertinent human beings. Vast food service, food distribution, and food-related publishing industries exist to help the gamer who chooses the former option. It is the rest of us -- those of us who wish to eat while playing -- who are in need of assistance. For eating while gaming poses certain logistical and practical challenges which must be overcome if everyone's hunger is to be assuaged.
Cheap delivery pizza, prepackaged junk food items, and various candies form the staple diets of many a devoted gamer. These items have the advantage of being relatively easy to consume without having to divert much attention from the game. The problem is, they all taste terrible, and they're often devoid of even a modicum of nutritive value. I'm convinced that there is a better way. It requires a bit of advanced planning, as well as some time spent in the kitchen. If that's too much for you to handle, well... I'd like to say that you have my sympathies, but you don't. You really, really don't.
Here follow, then, several promising ideas for homemade food that is suitable for consumption while gaming. Keep in mind that for a food item to be suitable for consumption while gaming, it:
1. Must not require any utensils to eat. Forks, spoons, knives, and chopsticks are all too distracting and clumsy.
2. Must be edible using only one hand. If it requires that the gamer take both hands off the controls, that's one hand too many.
3. Must not be too greasy, crumby, sticky, wet, or otherwise inappropriate for gaming.
4. Should preferably be simple to prepare.
5. Should preferably be capable of sitting on a plate, exposed at room temperature for significant amounts of time without degrading completely.
Pita Bread Pizza
Pita bread pizzas are tastier than delivery, faster to prepare than frozen (which must thaw in the oven), healthier than either, and fun to design and create. Here's what you'll need:
- Pita bread of your choice
- 1-2 grated cheeses, such as pepper jack, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, or feta
- 1-2 vegetable toppings, such as chopped fresh jalapeno peppers (my favorite), thinly sliced red onion, sliced tomato, marinated artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, etc.
- Crushed red pepper, oregano, basil, freshly ground black pepper, and/or any other herbs or spices you'd care to try, either fresh or dried
Optional components include:
- Tomato sauce (Homemade is best of course, but store-bought will do fine. Mole sauce, hummus, and pesto can be employed instead of tomato sauce for tasty variants. And the pizzas are entirely delicious without, too.)
- Meat of your choice, such as cooked bacon, cooked chicken, cooked sausage, pepperoni slices, etc.
- Hot sauce, to be applied to the final pizza
I encourage you not to load the pizzas with a large number of toppings. After a certain point, the flavors cease to compliment each other, and begin to compete. For this reason, I also recommend that you only put one type of meat on each pizza, at most.
Here's the procedure:
1. Turn on your oven's broiler. Spread a piece of aluminum foil over a broiler pan or metal sheet pan.
2. Slice each piece of pita bread into halves or fourths, if desired. Arrange the pita bread on the pan and place under the broiler. DO NOT walk away from the oven. Keep your eyes on the pita bread and when it begins to darken, remove the pan from the oven.
3. Flip the pita bread over, so that the browned sides are facing down. Apply your sauce (if using), cheese, herbs and spices, and toppings, in that order.
4. Place the pan back under the heat. Let the pizzas cook until the exposed edges of the pita bread begin to darken. If the pizzas brown unevenly, you may have to redistribute them halfway through. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the pizzas to a plate, pour a beer, and head back to the game.
Deviled eggs, when grasped from the bottom, are entirely free of mess. They're also darned tasty... unless, that is, you happen to be one of the folks who dislikes deviled eggs for some unfathomable reason. What can I say, nobody's perfect. You will need:
- Twelve eggs
- filling ingredients of your choice (see below)
To make deviled eggs, you must first hard-cook some eggs. To do this, place twelve eggs in a pot and fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs by one inch. Bring the pot to a boil, but watch it closely. As soon as it boils, turn the heat off, slap a top on the pot, and set a timer for exactly fourteen minutes. While waiting, prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl. When the time is up, carefully transfer the eggs to the ice water and let them sit for two minutes. Meanwhile, return the hot water to a boil. Transfer the eggs back into the boiling water, let boil for ten seconds, and place the eggs back in the ice water. (This last step will cause the eggs to pull away from the shell, making them easier to peel.)
When they are cool, carefully peel the eggs, slice them in half lengthwise and remove the yolks to a mixing bowl. Pulverize the yolks using a fork, and then add your desired filling ingredients (see below). Mix thoroughly and spoon the filling back into the egg whites. Sprinkle paprika on top, chill for an hour, and dig in.
Here are a few filling suggestions. Make sure you taste the filling before you add it back into the egg whites, and adjust for your palate. If you want to be a good cook, get used to tasting things as you prepare them.
Deviled Eggs #1: Plain and Simple
- 5-6 Tablespoons mayonnaise (good quality, please)
- 2-3 teaspoons yellow mustard
- 2 Tablespoons finely minced onion
- 1 Tablespoon sweet pickle relish
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- splash of Tabasco sauce
- And don't forget the paprika on top!
Deviled Eggs #2: The Breakfast Variant
Same as #1, but reduce the salt to 1/8 teaspoon, chop some bacon and fry in a pan until crisp. Cut the cooked bacon to final desired size and add it to the other ingredients. I like 4 Tablespoons of minced, cooked bacon for 12 eggs. You can substitute ham if you'd like.
Deviled Eggs #3: The Cheesy Kind
Same as #1, but omit the relish, add one Tablespoon of Roquefort or Brie, and substitute sour cream (NOT lowfat!) for half (or more) of the mayonnaise.
Deviled Eggs #4: I've Got Crabs!
Same as #1, but omit the relish, and add 4 Tablespoons of crabmeat salad (or just lump crabmeat). Be sure to check the crabmeat for shell fragments and cartilage. Flaked leftover tuna steaks would also do nicely.
As you can see, there's a lot of room for experimentation. You may also add capers, parsley, or caviar on top as a garnish. Although, if you're going to be eating these while gaming, you might want to skip the garnishes, since they're likely to fall off the egg and onto your leg at the most inopportune of times.
Spiced Chocolate Turtles
Finally, here's a little something for you sweet-toothers out there, adapted by myself from an Emeril Lagasse recipe for Spiced Butter Cookies.
- 2 sticks of butter, softened
- 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- about 24 pecan halves
- 1-2 teaspoons heavy cream (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place the butter in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer on low. When it is soft and has taken on some air, add the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix well on high speed, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom. Drop to medium speed and add the flour, 1/4 cup at a time. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spoon, and mix again. The final cookie dough will be stiff.
3. Stretch a piece of parchment paper over a cookie sheet, and drop the dough onto it by the tablespoon. Flatten each drop of dough with your fingers. Leave a gap of at least one inch between the cookies.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes. You'll know they're done when they begin to turn a lovely brown. Remove from the oven and transfer off the cookie sheet to cool.
5. Microwave the chocolate chips for intervals of twenty seconds. Stir with a spoon after each nuking, keeping in mind that chocolate can hold its shape even when melted. If it seems that the chips aren't melting, add about a teaspoonful of heavy cream to the bowl, mix, and heat again. Do not use milk -- or if you must, use whole milk -- since the chocolate may seize due to too much water being present.
6. Spoon or drizzle the chocolate onto the cookies. Before the chocolate sets, place a pecan half on each cookie, so that the chocolate acts as cement. If you really like pecans, consider allotting two pecan halves per cookie. Let cool before eating.
If three food ideas strike you as being not enough, take heart, for I intend to follow up with at least as many more. Meanwhile, if you decide to put these recipes to the test, let me know what you think. This isn't necessarily the best food in the world, but I'm pretty sure that it's some of the best food you'll find that meets the gamer's rather exclusive criteria.