A zero waste birthday cake

Eric turned 46 on Wednesday, and tradition holds in this house that the birthday girl (um, or boy, in this case, it’s not Eric’s fault he’s way outnumbered) gets to pick her (his) dinner and dessert. Eric has chosen the same thing every year since we’ve been married: Tacos and oatmeal cake.

I guess I should have taken a cake photo BEFORE we all descended upon it.

I guess I should have taken a cake photo BEFORE we descended upon it.

Why mess with a good thing?

Now, tacos, I keep meaning to learn how to make tortillas and even have a recipe from Zero Waste Home I want to try … and admittedly haven’t gotten there yet. So we had packaged tortillas. And I haven’t figured out a way to get zero waste cheddar. But other than THAT, it was fairly waste free (cabbage, tomatoes, onions and peppers in produce bags, refried beans in a recyclable can, leftover ground meat — okay, it was venison, and wrapped in paper — from another meal).

But who cares about the tacos? What I was really proud of was my zero waste birthday cake. This recipe comes to us via my favorite mother-in-law (hi, Joni!), and I would not be surprised if was from the ’50s. It’s one of those “boring cake on the bottom, a gold mine of gooey goodness on top” kind of ordeals. We eat it exactly once a year on his birthday so we don’t worry about how healthy/unhealthy it is. (Of course it’s unhealthy! It’s cake!)

Oatmeal Cake

Serves 12

1 1/4 cups boiling water — from my faucet

1 cup oats — bulk

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter — Amish butter wrapped in paper

1 cup sugar — wrapped in paper

1 cup packed brown sugar — used sucanat from Market of Choice field trip

2 eggs — thanks, Beth’s chickens!

1 teaspoon vanilla — homemade

1 1/3 cup flour — bulk

1 teaspoon cinnamon — bulk

1 teaspoon baking soda — bulk

1 teaspoon baking powder — bulk

1 recipe cake topping (below)

Pour boiling water over oats in a large bowl and let stand as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Do not drain any liquid that remains in the bowl.

Cream butter and sugars in a large bowl. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder; mix well. Add oatmeal; mix well. Pour into 9×13-inch baking dish and bake at 350º for 35-40 minutes.

Cake topping

1/2 cup butter — thanks again, Amish friends!

1 cup packed brown sugar — thanks again, Market of Choice!

1 small can evaporated milk (1/2 cup) — recyclable tin can

1 cup flaked coconut — bulk

1/2 cup chopped walnuts — bulk

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour over hot cake. Place under broiler until topping is bubbly (watch carefully as it doesn’t take long). Cool and serve.

(I’m sorry, international friends — I don’t understand liters and the like so I can’t translate measurements.)

It didn’t really even occur to me that this was going to be a zero waste cake until I was up to my elbows in it. Because … I guess my routines are in place and it all seems normal now, the bulk bins and the limited garbage. I seem to think more in terms of what isn’t zero waste — hello, tortilla shells — than I do about what is (hey, my chicken stock was totally zero waste too!). I don’t know if that means I’m doing awesome or that I really need to step up my game (by just doing without tortillas? Is that possible?).

Now, you’re homework: Have you had a a-ha moment when you realized you just zero wasted the heck out of something without even trying — because it’s ingrained or on accident or because the planets happened to align? Tell me about it! I love stories!

Also: This isn’t the post I’d planned to write for Friday, but it turns out I had an evening assignment for the paper Thursday and my blogging time was limited. I’ll work on something a little more exciting for Monday. (Now your hopes are up. I said a little more exciting, keep that in mind.)

6 Responses to A zero waste birthday cake

  1. I went Christmas and grocery shopping yesterday….the kind of shopping that takes you to 10 stores over the course of the day. While I am sad to report that it wasn’t a zero waste trip, I was proud of the fact that I did not get one icky plastic bag from the stores! Baby steps, but that’s the first time I totally avoided them.

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