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Month: February 2014

Baking Roundup

So, this started out as a short post until I realized how behind I was.  I wanted to clean out the bin of baking that has been accumulating on me.  It’s amazing how quick they build up!

Raspberry Citrus Cupcakes

These were cupcakes I had made in the past for my sister’s bridal shower, but while I was on a business trip, I had some friends request that I make them at their house.

Making Frosting By Hand

However, there was a bit of a problem when their mixer broke (aka “fizzled out with the awful stench of motor burnout”).

So, since everything else was ready to go, I got to do it all by hand!

However, everything else at least went smoothly as I made the citrus cupcake base, filled them with a dollop of raspberry preserves and topped them with a buttercream frosting made with fresh raspberries.

photo photo_3

The end result still turned out pretty darn good, and my friends loved them and appreciated the extra effort.


Spider-man Day Cupcakes

My son’s school had a special Spider-man Day and asked me to make some cupcakes, so I decided to hit up the food coloring on basic yellow cake.

Spiderman Cupcake Bases Spiderman Cupcakes

My Aunt’s 60th Birthday Cake

Over the summer, my aunt had her 60th birthday, and we usually have a family picnic a few weeks beforehand, so we surprised her with a personalized cake:

Bowling Cakes

The bowling ball is a dense chocolate cake with a strawberry preserve filling, and the pins are a lemon cake with lemon curd filling.

For reference, the pins were done using a vintage Donald Duck cake pan:

Donald Duck Cake Pan

Bridal Shower Cupcakes

For one of my wife’s friends, I was asked to make some bridal shower cupcakes.  She requested my buckeye cupcakes (which are becoming quite famous in these parts, consisting of a chocolate cake, peanut butter frosting filling, chocolate ganache, and a dollop of peanut butter frosting), but I made her a deal that I’d make one more type of my choosing as well.

Bridal Shower Cupcakes


So on the right is the buckeye cupcake, and on the left is my creation: a cherry cupcake with honey lavender frosting.  Both got positive reviews, but the lavender one was a bit on the strong side and I’d probably tone it back next time.  However, that was my first foray into using it, so it was a trial.

Ninja Turtle Birthday Cake

So, for my son’s third birthday, he asked me for a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle cake.  Unfortunately, the new iteration of the show has yet to produce any such pans, and all of the older ones are going on eBay for around $50.  So I got creative and decided to freehand a picture on top of a cake made with an old astronaut pan.

Me in the process of frosting Raphael In Cake


Not perfect, but I was still very happy with how it turned out and my youngest son nearly leaped with excitement when he saw it.

Christmas Donuts

For Christmas morning, we decided to make donuts from scratch.  I prepared the dough the night before, let it rise in the fridge overnight, and let it warm back up and proof in the morning.

Christmas Donuts

The donuts were great when warm, but a little on the dense side.  Next time, I’ll make sure to give them more time to warm back up before trying to do anything with the dough.

Strawberry Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes

For my oldest son’s birthday, we sent cupcakes into school with him and I let him choose what he wanted.  He settled on a strawberry cupcake with chocolate frosting, and then helped to finish decorating them.

Strawberry Chocolate Cupcakes

Monster Truck Birthday Cake

Lastly, one more birthday cake, again for my oldest son, because he got cupcakes at school and cake with the extended family at home (lucky boy!).

We had gone to Monster Jam a few weeks prior, so the boys are still full-throttle into the monster trucks.  So when I asked him what he wanted, he said an Iron Man Monster Truck.

Again, getting creative with the pans, I came up with the following:

Iron Man Monster Truck CakeIf the frosting looks a little more yellowed, it probably is, as this time I did make the switch from plain Crisco to an organic palm oil shortening.  I though it actually tasted much better despite the different color.

So, that wraps it up.  Unfortunately now, my Kitchen Aid Pro is back on the fritz, so I’ll have to get that fixed up before tackling much more.


Blogging Thoughts

One of the challenges I have with blogging is that I always feel like I need to write a lot or make the post as meaningful as possible. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do it more often.

However, with all of the thoughts half thunk and ideas never jotted down, the blog just gains empty space instead of becoming any kind of interaction.

That said, I’m going to try working on some more quick posts (like this one). After all, I’m no professional writer, so why treat this like work?

On the run again…

So after six weeks of the Insanity program to keep me fit on the depths of winter,  boredom started setting in (there are only so many times you can go through the videos before you start lip syncing along) and a work trip to Florida and a break in the Pittsburgh weather gave me the chance to get back out and run.  After 4 runs in 5 days, even though it was only 15 total miles,  it felt like reconnecting with an old friend.

So now I just need to stay putting together my routine and figure out when to work in my speed work and weights/cross-training.

Regardless,  I’m back to running and am very excited about it.

Training with the Fitbit Flex

It was about 6 months ago that I received my Fitbit Flex.  It was a Father’s Day gift that ended up getting delayed in shipping, but I began wearing it all the time from that point forward.

Fitbit Flex

In honesty, this wasn’t my first experience with a Fitbit product, as I had received the Fitbit One as a Christmas present in 2012.  While I really enjoyed the product, the downfall for me ended up being that the clip-on solution was difficult for me to keep track of.  In fact, after just 2 weeks, I managed to lose it after clipping it onto a pocket of my dress pants at work.

So, when the Flex came out, I was immediately interested, as I assumed (correctly) that the wrist-mounted unit would be easier to keep track of.  In fact, it’s no more cumbersome than a watch (which I haven’t worn for a while).  One of the funny things is that I do tend to look at it like a watch, but since it only has progress indicator lights it’s no good for that (though the newer Fitbit Force would address this problem).  In the first few weeks, I also had concerns about the durability of the wrist strap, but they have proven to be unfounded.  The

While the indicator lights are initially set to measure progress towards your goal in “steps”, I quickly changed mine to “miles”, as it is a more descriptive measure for me to evaluate in my day-to-day activities.  I currently have mine set with a target of 5 miles/day which is easy to do on days that I run, but a little more of a challenge the rest of the time.  When I hit this target, the lights go off and it vibrates to let me know I’ve reached my goal.  This also matches up well with the 5 indicator lights, which let me know when I’ve passed each mile marker throughout the day with just a couple of taps on the device (to make the indicator lights go off).

The Flex is surprisingly accurate.  I wear it when I run, and when I’ve done my early-morning long runs, my goal notification always goes off just before I hit the 5-mile mark on my TomTom runner.  While I had initially hoped it would be accurate, I’ve found that it is usually accurate within a tenth of a mile, which is more than enough for regular fitness tracking.

Additionally, the Fitbit ecosystem has proven to be versatile.  While most of the time it syncs with the provided dongle I have plugged into a USB port on my laptop and uploads my activity updates straight to the Fitbit site (see my profile), if I happen to be traveling or away from home for the day, I can also sync with my phone via Bluetooth to get more details about my daily activity.

The Flex also offers sleep tracking, which I view as more of a “neat” feature than anything critical.  Basically, I just tap the unit several times until it vibrates and indicates sleep mode, and then do the same in the morning.  I can then go on the Fitbit site and view the quality of my sleep.  The unit will note periods of activity during sleep that may help you better understand your sleep patterns.  However, since I have small children who may wake me at any hour of the night, it’s hard for me to actually act on that data.

Lastly, one of the most convenient features of the Flex is it’s battery life.  I was initially concerned that I’d have to be charging it frequently, but I’ve come to find that it will last at least a week on a full charge, and often closer to 10 days.  And then when I do need to charge it, it only takes 1-2 hours (depending on if I plug it into a dedicated outlet or just use a USB port on my computer).  Often, I just skip a night of sleep tracking and let it charge fully while I sleep.

Ok, so I don’t wear it “all the time”, as I don’t wear it while showering, letting it charge or doing construction projects around the house (the vibrations of hammering or similar activities activate sleep mode too easily), but I do wear it whenever reasonably possible.

In the end, if you like to track your activity and are a stat-geek like myself, the Fitbit Flex is a great addition to your collection.  It’s accurate, easy and convenient without being unreasonably priced.

If you happen to already have a Fitbit product, feel free to send me a friend invite from my profile.