Grieving for the Nintendo Entertainment System

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Nintendo Entertainment System is fading away.  It’s been going on for a couple of decades and it’s easy to overlook, as newer flashy consoles like PS3 and Wii/U vie for our attention with all manner of bells and whistles that the stalwart 8-bit pioneer could never have imagined.  For gamers (and former gamers) of my generation, the NES-era games and hardware continue to have an iconic, nostalgic appeal, as evidenced by toys, apparel, tattoos, memes, and imagery all over the net.  But what about the actual, physical, playable console?  What place does it have in today’s gaming world?

We pay our respects by consuming commercial items churned out to appeal to our inner children, or sometimes through art (or photos).  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all this, but it sometimes makes me wonder how many people are still blowing into cartridges and gently pressing in the old gray power button, clutching the wired, rectangular controllers that do not fit the contours of our hands, and grinding it out through games much more challenging (no saving!) than today’s offerings.

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I have an NES, and it is hooked up and ready to go along with my other consoles.  I rarely use it.  The siren songs of modern RPGs, shooters, of MarioKart Wii and World of Goo, of dark beautiful stories and seemingly limitless character customization, of my hard-won save files waiting impatiently for my attention, win out over my old gray friend quite consistently.  The NES somehow appears both dignified and forlorn on the shelf above the PS3.  I feel guilt, happiness, nostalgia, contentment, the pain of adulthood, and a million other feelings when I contemplate it.

A couple of years ago, I asked my then-10-year-old nephew if he knew anything about “the original Nintendo.”  He has a Wii, plays MarioParty and MarioKart, and knows the beloved characters.  He doubtless recognizes from imagery the older, pixelated Mario.  “You mean N64?”  “No, before that.  Two consoles earlier.”  He shook his head.

On the occasions, usually with friends over, that I do fire up the NES for some Mario 3, 31-in-1, or Paperboy, it really does transport me.  Your muscle memory might get rusty, but you never forget how to get the whistles in Mario 3 or the frantic pre-techno music from Wiley’s Castle in Megaman 3.

These things were a part of my childhood and probably yours too.  Letting go is painless, and the awareness of that fact is agonizing.  As I gaze, in this moment, at the NES console, I can almost see it get blurry around the edges as it fades into obscurity.  The icons will endure, but the circuits-and-plastic original is bound for extinction.

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(The photos in this post are of me, and taken by Nick Rudnicki)

Best-Ever Vegan Caesar Salad

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My stepfather is known for making amazing from-scratch caesar salad dressing, and despite his omnivorous diet, he’s very open to trying vegan recipes and vegan alternatives to his own recipes.  He and I brainstormed a veganized caesar dressing a while back that used vegan mayo.  I’ve been adjusting it since then to get it down to more whole-food ingredients.  This dressing has a pinky-eggplant colour due to the kalamatas.

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When I have it on hand, I like to add some vegan parmesan to this dressing.  Galaxy brand makes a soy-based parmesan that smells and tastes amazingly like the real thing and is a nice addition to the dressing, or you can sprinkle it over the plated salad.  However!  This dressing is fantastic and complete without the parmesan, so don’t worry if you don’t have any around.

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Yields 6-8 servings (or 2-4 if you LOVE caesar salad!)

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, washed and torn into large pieces
  • 1 large ciabatta roll (or focaccia, ficelle, part of a baguette, etc)
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Caesar Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (more if they’re small)
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 8-10 kalamata olives, pitted
  • Optional – 1-2 teaspoons of vegan parmesan

Preheat oven to 300.  Cut ciabatta into large cubes (about 1.5 inch). Place in large mixing bowl and sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Spread onto a cookie sheet and bake at about 300 for about 5 minutes until toasted – keep an eye on them.

Blend all dressing ingredients together (I prefer using an immersion blender and blender cup but a food processor works too).  Taste and adjust to your liking: add lemon to make it brighter and more zesty, olives or dijon to add richness, or olive oil to tone the whole thing down a bit.

Place the lettuce in a large bowl, pour dressing over, and toss well to coat.  Add croutons and give it a couple more tosses to combine.  Serve immediately.

Note:  If you’re not sure you’ll eat the whole salad right away, I suggest only combining a portion of the ingredients.  That way, you can keep the prepped lettuce, croutons, and dressing separate in the fridge and have a fresh perfect caesar again the next day!

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The Conflicted Existence of a Female Zombie-Killer

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Call of Duty: Black Ops II is my first time playing this series.  I only play the zombies mode; I’ve never been into war games, because killing middle-eastern rebels or foreign armies really doesn’t appeal to me.  But zombies?  Bust out the semi-automatic weaponry, I’m there.

Once I started playing public online mode, it didn’t take me long to learn that if I didn’t mute everyone else’s microphone while playing, I’d hear some shit I didn’t wanna hear.  The first time I played online, some dude was dropping n-bombs (from the context in which he used them, it was pretty obvious he was using them as a slur and was not a person of colour himself).  I quit the game and henceforth was a quick-draw on the ‘mute all’ button before starting a match.

Not long after I started playing Black Ops, Hubby gifted me a PS3 headset.  I think both of us anticipated this being used in the context of him needing quiet to study and me still being able to play PS3 or watch Netflix.  I really never intended to get into mic’d online play.  When I’d sign in to Black Ops, I’d mute my mic along with everyone else’s.

Once I got into playing more complex DLC maps (Mob of the Dead, anyone?), though, I could really see the appeal of being able to communicate with other players.  I started leaving people’s mic’s unmuted in the lobby while I listened to players chat.  If they sounded like reasonable people, I’d leave them unmuted.  Soon after, I kept my mic on the first time, and was lucky enough to have an awesome team.  No offensive remarks (just a lot of f-bombs directed at zombies), cohesive teamwork, and it was instantly clear to me what I’d been missing by playing without audio communication.

It didn’t take long before I stopped my lurking-vetting process of deciding which team’s I’d mic with.  And it didn’t take long after that for the sexist bullshit to start.

The first remark, while annoying, wasn’t too major.  I told the team I’d grab a quest item located in the map’s laundry room.  “Oh yeah, perfect, the girl’s doing the laundry.”  If I let myself get upset over that kind of stuff, I wouldn’t be able to exist in the world, so I let it go.  But it got worse. A few days later, playing with a team that had seemed pretty cool at first, I got taken down by a huge horde of zombies who cornered me.  As I asked the team if anyone could make it over to revive me, a player who had witnessed the takedown said “yeah, the chick totally got raped by those zombies.”  My heart dropped into my stomach and I actually felt ill.  I don’t feel the need to get into a rant about rape culture or rape jokes, but needless to say, I was not happy.

The truth is, overall, my experiences playing on headset have been better than I initially feared they would be.  Aside from the relatively common “are you really a girl?” questions, most teams I play with have treated me with respect.  I’m sure this is partly because I’m back to pre-emptively muting teams that sound too rowdy in the lobby.  But those times that someone does casually toss out a sexist remark, it takes the wind right out of me.  It breaks the illusion that everyone is there for the same reason as me: some good, clean, respectful, zombie-killing teamwork.  I play video games to escape all the bullshit in the world, so this is not part of the plan for me.

I’ll continue playing Black Ops, and I’ll continue feeling conflicted about mic’d play. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Entrée Salad with Crispy-fried Tofu and BBQ’d Veggies

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Fire up the barbeque!  This salad has it all.  The quinoa and tofu provide protein, the mushrooms and corn add a nice smoky-savory element, and the raw veggies and dressing make the whole thing taste so fresh and amazing!  It’s also really filling… I couldn’t finish mine, which is something that almost never happens.  Preparing this salad involves some multi-tasking, but it’s well worth it.  More than half of the ingredients are pantry staples, so don’t be daunted by the list.  This recipe makes two entrée salads.

  • 1 romaine lettuce heart, washed and chopped
  • 2 ears of corn, shucked but for one layer of leaves
  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, chopped into large rectangles (about 1×2 inches)
  • Olive oil
  • ½ cup quinoa (dry measure), cooked according to package directions
  • 1 large beefsteak tomato, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced
  • For the tofu:
  • Half-block extra-firm tofu
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Canola oil
  • For the dressing:
  • 1-2 tablespoons lime juice
  • Big handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar or maple syrup (or more if you like a sweet dressing)

(Note: I recommended cooking the corn and mushrooms on the BBQ, using a grill basket for the mushrooms.  If this isn’t convenient for you, you can boil the corn and roast or sauté the mushrooms.)

The corn can be placed directly on the grill over medium-high heat.  Toss the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and pour them into the grill basket over medium heat.  Every few minutes, turn the corn and stir the mushrooms.  The corn is done when it’s bright yellow and has a bit of char, and the mushrooms are done when tender and juicy.  After cooling it for a few minutes, cut the corn off the cobs using a sharp knife.

While the corn and mushrooms are cooking, get going on the tofu.  Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add a generous amount of cooking oil such as canola. Slice the tofu into ¾ inch-thick slices, then cut the slices diagonally into triangles.  Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl and dredge the tofu triangles to coat.

Carefully place the tofu triangles into the pan and swirl the pan a bit to ensure they are all sitting in a nice oily bath.  Flip them when they are nicely browned on the bottom, after about 3 minutes.  I like to cook crispy tofu quite well so that it dries out a bit and has a nice chewy texture…. So give them a few minutes on the other side until they look like perfect, crispy, golden wedges of yumminess.  (This tofu recipe is adapted from Fresh Restaurant’s crispy tofu cubes recipe, from their Refresh cookbook, which I highly recommend!)

Place all the of the dressing ingredients in a blender, food processor, or nutri-bullet, or use an immersion blender… just make sure all that yumminess is nicely pureed into a glowing green elixir.

Time to assemble!  Divide the lettuce between two large plates, and arrange in rows the green onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, quinoa, tofu, and corn.  Drizzle the whole thing with the cilantro dressing, and put any remaining dressing on the table, because you’ll probably want to add more.  Enjoy!

Can’t Hardly Wait

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Upcoming, to-be-released video games.  Way more exciting than upcoming movies, don’t you think?  Of course I love movies, but a new movie will give you a few hours of passive excitement at best, right?  A new game, on the other hand, can provide dozens of hours (or in the case of RPGs… hundreds of hours?) of immersive, interactive, challenging, rewarding FUN.

At the moment, there are two games pending release that have me borderline-rabid with anticipation.  Both are sequels to games that I’ve previously gotten seriously (maybe dangerously) involved with, so I guess these picks are predictable.  But hey, that’s another point for games against movies.  Game sequels: often (usually?) better than the original.  Movie sequels: generally sketchy.

Dark Souls II (for PS3/Xbox360/PC) and Plants vs Zombies: It’s About Time (for PC/Mac/Smartphone) are about as different as two games can be.  The dark-fantasy action-RPGs in the Dark Souls series are widely accepted as among the most difficult being made.  They are invariably described by reviewers as being sadistic, frustrating, and prone to causing fits of despair and rage in players.  Plants vs Zombies, on the other hand, is a highly-accessible, cartoony and cute tower-defense game that doesn’t require a console and can be enjoyed by the most casual gamer.  Beating it won’t earn you much gamer cred, but who cares?  It’s a joy to play.  (The subtitle of the sequel is a jokey nod to the fact that it took four years to make a sequel to a blockbuster Popcap game).

Dark Souls II is slated for a March 2014 release, and PvZ: IBT will be released in North America within the next few weeks (the developer is being coy about giving a firm date).  Have you played the predecessors of either game?  Which upcoming games have you all hot and bothered?

Preparing to Launch

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I have a little too much free time lately.  Outside of my domestic responsibilities and taking care of my dog Bieber, I tend to spend my free time cooking and playing (mostly video) games.  So I thought maybe I’d try doing a food blog…. and then somewhat randomly, decided maybe I’ll include some posts about games.  Not really sure what I’m getting into here….. but feeling good about it!

EDIT: Just did my first post and then realized that while I love photos of my dog (like every dog owner), I probably should have started with a food-related photo.  I’ll consider this a lesson learned!