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Three Zines About Food

Reviewed by Chris Auman

Under the Radar: Notes from the Wild Mushroom Trade

Under the Radar: Notes from the Wild Mushroom Trade

By Olivier Matthon

Now here’s an occupation I’ve given zero thought to previously: Mushroom Picker. I think I would prefer the job title of Fungus Finder or maybe Shroom Wrangler, personally. The point is this: someone is out there picking those wild mushrooms.

I went morel hunting once as a kid, out there in the sticks of rural NW Illinois where I grew up. We started in the very early morning, but not too early for my much older cousin, Dickie, to crack a beer. It was fairly exciting, kinda like Easter egg hunting but harder. And nothing tastes like a breaded and fried morel. Even though they look pretty gnarly, you never forget the taste. That was a purely recreational pursuit, however, and many Mushroom Pickers rely on the picking season to support themselves year round.

Under the Radar was written by picker Olivier Matthon and it chronicles his time perusing the forests of the Pacific Northwest in search of edible shrooms and a hard-earned buck. (These aren't psychedelic mushrooms, btw, but the kind chefs and restaurateurs will pay good coin for). Olivier has held a variety of jobs on the outer edges of the workforce and mushroom picker is right at home on his resume with his other occupations as cherry picker, tree planter, clam digger and firewood hawker.

Under the Radar alludes both to the hunted fungi that lay half hidden in the undergrowth, but it also refers to the fringe dwelling hunter. Mushroom Pickers exist off the grid and that makes them outsiders and a part of an underground economy and society of nomads. In addition to the sketchy financial rewards of pickers, there are dangers as well. Sometimes I suppose you might find yourself on the wrong side of a fence, and don't forget the marijuana growers. Where there's drugs, there's money and thugs with guns to protect them both. Also, as with many industries, there is an immigrant class who will pick for cheaper and who lack the experience and the reserve to leave the younger mushrooms alone until they can grow into a more valuable future crop.

All in all it’s a hard way to make a buck, but it seems to be about more than money for the pickers. You don’t become a mushroom picker to get rich. It’s more likely you’re already living off the land and by your wits, and this kind of work suits the type of person who doesn’t want to be tied down to one job or one place, for whatever reason. This makes Under the Radar a very engaging read if you're into subcultures as zine writers and readers often are. [oliviermatthon.com] [Pioneers Press]

This Ain't No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook

This Ain't No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook

By Joshua Ploeg

Published by Microcosm Publishing, purveyor of DIY publications from health guides to left-leaning political zines, This Ain’t No Picnic is “Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook.” With pierced tongue in cheek, this awesome-looking recipe compendium is presented in a humorous, self-effacing style that pokes fun at all things punk while simultaneously teaching you how to cook vegan. It's not about dogma or even dog collars, it's about making delicious vegan food on the cheap with limited access to things like stoves, ovens, freezers, fridges and other appliances generally associated with cooking.

The book features 80 new vegan recipes from the Punk Rock Vegan Chef, Joshua Ploe,g and is broken down into eight sections that are accompanied by short introductions from various punk rockers, as well as recommended song lists of punk classics. Ploeg is a traveling vegan chef who has cooked for a long list of musicians and bands over his career on the fringes of the culinary world. He also has a lifelong connection to punk rock. He has authored dozens of zines and DIY cookbooks and has, in his words, lived in squalor for the past fifteen years. Photographers, Vice Cooler and Dalton Blanco, provide great full-color photos and, despite the intentionally chaotic and cluttered layout of the book, it looks exciting, fresh as a raw rutabaga and easy to use.

This book contains recipes for dishes that can be made in the tour van, like “Dashboard Jerky” for example, where marinated strips of beets, carrots and tofu or tempeh can be placed on a piece of foil so they can dehydrate on the hot dash. Or s'mores that can be roasted over the flame of a cigarette lighter. There are recipes for food "fished" from the dumpster, and tips on how to slice and dice vegetables with nothing more than a credit card a la the Credit Card Sandwich tutorial. (Don't use your card for any other purpose.)

While it may increase your enjoyment of the book if you are familiar with the bands and songs that have inspired some of these recipes, and it may be helpful to be a vegan, neither is a prerequisite. Yes, you don’t have to live in a communal punk rock house to cook like a crusty vegan. You don’t even have to listen to punk rock to make these dishes, (you should though), but it may just inspire you to dig into the vast annals of punk rock's past and explore the health benefits and cruelty-free aspects of a vegan diet.[joshuaploeg.blogspot.com] [Microcosm Publishing]

Hot Damn and Hell Yeah

Hot Damn and Hell Yeah: Recipes for Hungry Banditos: Vegan Tex-Mex & Southern Eats

By Ryan Splints

When Ryan Splint moved to the Land Down Under (or as they call it in the American South, the Land Down Yonder), he soon found himself missing the Tex Mex cuisine of his youth. His Aussie friends encouraged him to write a cookbook chock full of vegan versions of these Southern staples. And so he did.

Hot Damn and Hell Yeah is the 10th anniversary expanded edition of that effort. It contains all sorts of delicious recipes made 100% free of animal products. From "corndawgs" to "chili con non-carne," ya'll vegan doggies can cook up these vittles yourselves on prairies, patches, vegetable ranches or around any campfire you find yourself in front of.

The recipes are purposefully straightforward and easy to concoct. While a vegan diet is certainly healthy (if done correctly), this book does not aspire to be a healthy cookbook per se. The focus is on taste first and foremost. These recipes sure do look pretty gol'dang good and the ingredients should be easy to rustle up at your local, healthy, more whole foodier stores. [Microcosm Publishing]

Brew it Yourself: Erik Spellmeyer

Brew it Yourself: Professional Craft Blueprints for Home Brewing

By Erik Spellmeyer

Home brewing has come a long way since the mid '90s when a roommate of mine brought home some ridiculous contraption called Mr. Beer. While Mr. Beer did allow you to brew your own suds back in the day, it sure produced an awful tasting end product. At least that was my experience. Not to be outdone, another roommate during this period also tried his hand at home brewing. Instead of some preformed plastic gizmo, he kicked it a little more old school with stainless steel pots, big thermometers, giant wooden stirring spoons and whatnot. His output tasted like crap too. Were either of these gents to read my description of their beer making efforts here today, they would undoubtedly, wholeheartedly defend their product and defy that it tasted anything but delicious. My taste buds don’t lie, however.

At any rate, we’ve come a long way from the skunky flavor, moldy basement aroma and horrendous aftertaste of Mr. Beer and his ilk, and Mr. and Ms. Beer Drinker appreciate that. It's too bad this book, Brew it Yourself, wasn't lying around the apartment back then because that certainly would have helped the situation.

Brew it Yourself is a do-it-yourself guide that comes correct with info and how-to's on the how to of extract brewing, all grain brewing and the importance of sanitation to the fermenting process. Written by beer crafter and suds enthusiast Erik Spellmeyer, this is an informative guide that will allow anyone with a little time, a little money and a passion for great hops to brew their own. You can make it as easy or as involved as you like. There are recipes for pales, ales and extra special bitter beers as well as a glossary, conversion guide and a brew log to chart your progress, or lack thereof.

I must confess that I do not plan on brewing my own beer, ever. I prefer getting beer the old fashioned way, from the beer store. However, I am definitely going to pass this book on to former Roommate #1 who has since returned to home brewing, this time employing a much more efficient system, and is no doubt brewing delicious malts and IPAs while the former Mr. Beer more than likely lies at the bottom of a deep landfill somewhere. [Microcosm Publishing]

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