This past Saturday, I served tea and baked goodies at my friend Todd’s piano recital. With the holidays coming up, I thought I would share the simple things I did to reach (practically) zero-waste while plying a crowd with treats.
1. Plan ahead
Although I don’t need to worry much about food waste when I bake (I can easily find volunteer eaters), planning ahead does reduce excess. I first figured out what to bake for about 100 people, and settled on a few different types of cookies and gluten-free brownies (I knew many people attending would want this latter option). Some people would eat nothing, while others would eat two or three cookies, so I decided to bake roughly 100 items. If I didn’t sell them all, I could freeze them.
I settled on chocolate chip cookies, coconut macaroons, shortbread cookies and flourless brownies. Finding a good gluten-free brownie recipe almost sent me over the edge. The first recipe I tested turned out too dry. The second one—with black beans—tasted absolutely fantastic, but yielded a cake which would have required plates and forks. I wanted to keep things simple. The third recipe turned out well (people raved about it) but I did end up using parchment paper. I could not have possibly removed these sticky brownies from the pan without parchment. At least I used the same pieces for both batches before (gulp) throwing it out.
Update 12/13/17: You can put parchment paper in the compost. Back when I wrote this post, the guy in charge of our community compost wouldn’t allow this, so I started a rogue pile in my yard. Had I started my pile earlier, I could have put this in there.
2. Shop with glass jars and reusable cloth bags
I always bring glass jars and homemade cloth bags for bulk bins shopping. Stores vary in how they weigh the jars (you don’t want to pay for the weight of the jar in addition to the weight of the food). At some stores, before filling up, you weigh the jars yourself and mark the tare on them. At others, customer service will weigh the jars for you. The cashier will then deduct the weight of the jar when ringing you up. At a few stores, the cashiers have no clue and will look at you as though you have completely lost your mind.
I bought bulk organic ingredients: flour, sugar, shredded coconut, fair trade chocolate chips, black beans which I didn’t use for this after all, Earl Grey tea bags and chai tea bags. In a perfect world, I would have bought loose-leaf tea and brewed it in multiple tea pots, but I wanted to make this day a little easier. The used tea bags went in the compost at the end of the day.
I buy my eggs from the farmer’s market and my egg lady accepts the cartons back for reuse. The organic non-homogenized milk did have a small plastic seal around the lid. And the paper wrapped around the organic pastured butter—which I refuse to give up—did wind up in the trash. But that’s still minimal trash. The paper box wound up in recycling. (I rarely recycle as I rarely buy packaged food.)
I used my homemade vanilla in the recipes. I set out a few bottles for sale and touted it as my secret ingredient. I actually sold one of the large bottles!
3. Opt for reusables
I sewed nearly 100 cloth napkins for the day and handed people their food on them. This practical solution to serving the goodies cut down on waste. The napkins turned out nicely and a couple of people asked if they could buy them. I said sure! I also used ceramic mugs and metal spoons rather than wasteful disposables.
4. Borrow what you need
I live in an intentional community and borrowed table cloths and lots of mugs from our community kitchen. I also borrowed a pile of stuff from the church affiliated with the community: a hot water dispenser, two cold water dispensers, spoons and baskets to hold food and other items. (I don’t belong to the church. I don’t have a problem with it but as a recovering Catholic, I cannot bring myself to join any church.)
5. Do what you can in advance
A couple of weeks ago, I began to test gluten-free recipes and I began to cut out and sew napkins. The week of, I finished my napkins, shopped and picked up borrowed items. I cannot lie and tell you everything took only a bit more work than buying trays of food from a bakery and boxes of coffee from Starbucks. But of course, store-bought cannot compare with homemade (especially considering the quality ingredients I use!). The food tasted delicious, people seemed inspired by the effort and I really enjoyed planning and preparing for this. Besides, I needed food to match the quality entertainment (not that my baking skills come anywhere near Todd’s musical skills). And Todd played beautifully as always! He’s incredibly talented. Check out the program.
The trash bin tally for the entire event: two pieces of parchment paper; 9 pieces of wax paper wrapping from butter quarters. I guess the food tasted pretty good, because no one threw any of that out either 🙂