Saturday, January 17, 2015

Thrift Week 2015: A Thrifty Birthday Bash

As Thrift Week approached this year, I found myself feeling kind of unenthusiastic about it. I had a theme picked out, but I wasn't really all that excited about it—and I had a lot of other ideas for posts that I liked a lot better, and I wasn't happy about having to postpone them until Thrift Week was over. In particular, I'd received several really cool early birthday presents that were also ecofrugal, and I was really a lot more interested in writing about them than about my selected topic.

So finally I decided, why not just stretch out these entries to fill a whole week, and make that my Thrift Week celebration? Sure, it'll be a bit different from previous Thrift Week topics; it's less of a coherent theme, and more of a hodge-podge of different ideas linked together only by the fact that they happened to come up during my birthday week. But on the other hand, maybe that's a good thing. It'll make this year's Thrift Week less theoretical, and more down-to-earth—a sort of "A Week in the Life" celebration of day-by-day thrift.

So, to kick off this thrifty birthday bash, let's take a look at what I'm doing today, my actual birthday, to celebrate. Going out for a meal? To see a show? Treating myself to a shopping spree? Naturally, the answer is no to all of those. I'll be celebrating tonight with some good clean fun that requires neither cash nor electricity: a role-playing game with our Saturday night group. Yes, that means we'll burn a gallon or two of gas traveling to the house of the guy who hosts the group, but that's the only expenditure we'll have. I'll be running a scenario for Dogs in the Vineyard, a system that requires nothing to play except one book (which Brian gave me last year), a bunch of polyhedral dice, and some paper and pencils. (For any readers who are at all into role-playing games, I highly recommend this system. The mechanics are elegant and easy to learn, the character creation process is interesting, and best of all, the book lays out a really straightforward, step-by-step for creating new adventures—which makes it a lot easier to DM than most other games. And it only costs $22 for the one book you need—$15 if you're willing to buy it in PDF form.)

I also promised my gaming group that, since it was my birthday, I would bring cupcakes for the class. And since one member of the group is vegan, that means they'll need to be vegan cupcakes. Fortunately, I already know a chocolate cake recipe that's both vegan and extremely easy to make. I first met this recipe in the pages of my first kiddies' cookbook when I was about eight years old, where it was called "Wacky Cake," but a nearly identical recipe appears in Peg Bracken's I Hate to Cook Book under the name "Cockeyed Cake." She says of it:
This is a famous recipe, I believe, but I haven't the faintest idea who invented it. I saw it in a newspaper years ago, meant to clip it, didn't, and finally bumped into the cake itself in the apartment of a friend of mine. It was dark, rich, moist, and chocolatey, and she said it took no more than five minutes to mix it up. So I tried it, and, oddly enough, mine, too, was dark, rich, moist, and chocolatey. My own timing was five and a half minutes, but that includes hunting for the vinegar.
I'm not going to bother reproducing the recipe here, since you can easily find dozens of versions online by Googling "wacky cake." What's harder to find is a decent vegan frosting to go on top. I hunted through our recipe file and found a frosting recipe that Brian had invented a while back that was based on coconut milk, but I found it also included butter. So I put it the question to him: did he think he could modify the recipe to use coconut oil instead, making it even coconuttier? Brian didn't see why not; the worst that could happen was that the mixture would be a little gloopier than normal, and our gaming group wouldn't care whether the cupcakes looked pretty as long as they tasted good. So he started messing about in the kitchen and came up with this, which I present here for your delectation:
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 - 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. coconut milk
Beat the coconut oil, salt, and vanilla together until fluffy.
Add sugar and coconut milk, alternating until smooth. (The more sugar you use, the stiffer the frosting will be.)
Here are the cupcakes, all baked and iced, ready to take to my thrifty birthday party. (We discovered that we didn't have any paper cupcake wrappers, so Brian just greased and floured the pan well before baking them, and most of them came out neatly. That one upside-down cupcake in the corner was the only one that was at all damaged, and it only left one little corner behind in the pan.)

And the best part is, the party goes on all week long. That's right: it's a thrift party, and we're going to kick it ecofrugal style! Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!
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