Saturday, August 31, 2013

Running with the Kids is Just Peachy! Race Recap and Recipe

Me and the kidlets after my race
This morning's race was a local 5K to benefit the American Heart Association.  As my husband wanted to go for a long bike ride, I got the kiddos.  Luckily for me, there were kids' races after the main race, as well as my best TriBuddy and her family coming along as well.  As my kids have been bugging me to find them another race, and TriBuddy's very brave husband spontaneously offered to watch all SIX kids (I have two, they have 4) while the mommies ran, it was a perfect setup.  

As I'm eight days from my key triathlon for the season, this morning would be a training run.  My seventh straight day of working out (not advisible.  I really must get a coach).  I realized this while wondering out loud to my husband last night why on earth I was so darn tired and sore.  Checked my workout log - that is why!  To think that I'm now scatterbrained in a direction where I exercise too much instead of too little.  A new kind of stupid for me.  Anyway, suffice it to say, I wasn't looking for any records here.  Which is good, because the course was an out-and-back starting with a steep downhill that (by definition) become a big *ss uphill coming back.  Oy vay.

As you can see by the graph, I started out fast and fizzled.  As in, walked the hill.  And forgot to turn off MapMyRide (my actual time was 31:44).  Post race stupidity is a strong suit of mine.  But as I was just doing a training run, and my PR for a 5K is only a couple of minutes faster, I'm good with that.

Speaking of post-race stupidity - these were at the finish line, and were very good.  It's a water bottle with some electrolyte powder in the cap.  

You push it to spill the powder into the drink, shake and drink.  Very good and not too sweet.  However, it took my about 5 minutes and a temper tantrum (and which point TriBuddy's husband took it from me and showed me how to operate) for this monkey to be able to figure out how to work it.  (Seriously - don't ever let me drive or make decisions after exercise.  It just isn't pretty.  Ask TriBuddy how I wrecked my bike after one of our training sessions.... just a hint... I wasn't riding it at the time.  Story for another day.....)

The best part of this race was the kid stuff.  The kids got their faces painted, built model wooden cars with volunteers from Home Depot, played with sidewalk chalk, and even ended up having cotton candy for breakfast (a parenting decision made post-race: see what I mean?).

Rockin the free sunglasses... in the rain.

Rainbow cheeked
But after they cheered Mommy down the chute, the real fun began - the KIDS RACE!!  There were three distances: 50 yards for the 3,4&5 year olds, 100 yards for the 7,8 & 9 year olds, and a 400 yard for the biggest kids.  My kids immediately scorned being put in the baby race, so my 4 year old son decided he'd race the 100, and my 5 year old daughter the 400.

Lining up for the 100 with the bigger kids

Running his heart out

Little guy's race was up first.  See him right in the middle in the blue shirt, with all the kids around him twice as tall?  Yeah - that become a problem.  His heart is as big as the sky, but his legs are little.  He tried super hard but dissolved into tears before the finish line because he was last.  We would have a long talk on the way home about age groups and the only competition that matters being against yourself, but he just wasn't having it.  DFL is terrible, even when (especially when) you are four.  Sorry buddy....

While consoling my littlest racer, my daughter queued up for hers.  She's in the black pants and pink shirt as the start was yelled?  She can regularly pace me (not that that's hard....) for at least a mile when we run together, so I had no concerns about her.  She ran and laughed the whole way around, and waved to her mom and little brother as she sped by. 

On your mark, get set, GO!

On the last leg - blowing by the other littles

In the awesome spirit of kid-friendly races, the organizers had a whole stack of prizes and medals for the kids.  I could have kissed the volunteers.  People that "get" kids are worth their eight in gold.  My little dude stopped crying as soon as he got a medal around his neck and got to pick out a beach ball and a wicked loud whistle (the whistle was also a poor post-race parenting decision).  My daughter also became the proud owner of a whistle and bubbles.  Remember when all it took to be deliriously happy was bubbles?  

All the racing kids with their medals 
There's really not much better in life than racing with a great friend and my two best little guys.  Even if there is a great big hill at the end.
Me and TriBuddy before we got all sweaty

Recipe: Spiced Peach Jam

Home from the race by lunchtime.  My husband, not to be outdone, had just gotten in from a 30 mile mountain bike ride (go babe!) and still had the lawn to mow, so I fed the kids leftover (homemade) pizza and did what any reasonable sweaty, tired, sore mom would do.  I plopped them in front a movie.  

Then I had another project.  The kids took me peach picking last week, which is great fun.  You can fill your bag within 10 minutes, and then they sit in your kitchen, challenging you to do something with them before they all ripen at the same time and become a box of mush.

I love peaches: fresh, peach jam, peach salsa - you name it.  The trouble is that, unlike berries that can be cooked whole, or apples where you can use a food mill to take off the skin, stone fruit takes a ton of work to process.  The fastest way to get the skin off peaches is to prepare boiling water and a ice bath.  Make an "X" on the bottom of each fruit, and working in small batches, dunk them first in boiling water for about 1-2 minutes, then into the ice bath for the same amount of time.

If done properly, the skin comes right off, and you can then slice them up for whatever you are making. In reality, it took me all of The Lorax plus another half an hour to get through our box.  Making jam isn't usually considered an endurance sport, but it should be.

So many peaches!  Keep squirting with lemon juice to keep from browning
To make Spiced Peach Jam, I prefer to use powdered low-sugar pectin.  It is the easiest of the pectins to use in my opinion, and I like to make my own jam because I can control the amount of sugar that goes in (not much). 
  • 7 cups of chopped, peeled, pitted peaches
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 7 tbsp of low sugar pectin
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 2 cups of sugar
Combine the first four ingredients in a large saucepan.  Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the fruit has started to break down (a potato masher helps a lot here).  Add the sugar and stir well.  The jam is ready to can when it coats a spoon, and when it sets up when you dribble a small amount on a frozen plate (or ice pack, bag of frozen peas - use what you've got).  Fill 8 oz. jars with 1/4 inch headspace, and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner, then let sit for 5 minutes before removing and letting cool.  You should hear the lids "pop" as they cool, indicating they are sealed.  Amounts here make about ten 8 oz jars but this recipe can be scaled down.  Do not make batches larger than 10 jars - the jam won't set.

In addition to being our Christmas presents and year supply, homemade fruit jams and preserves also make a really lovely old-fashioned filling for cakes and cupcakes.  I would recommend filling brown sugar cupcakes with this jam, and topping with cinnamon frosting and a fresh peach slice.  If you bake some rum into the batter or mix some rum into the frosting, I won't be the first to judge you either.  

Finished jars of Spiced Peach Jam

Friday, August 30, 2013

Zucchini Spice Cupcakes: Counts as a Vegetable?

Let's get this out of the way right from the start.  I fully appreciate the irony that I am both an athlete AND that I own a business making cakes and cupcakes that are, by definition, unhealthy.  Do I consider that a conflict?  No, not really.  I believe that a little bit of a good thing is, well.... a good thing.  Birthdays, weddings, baby showers - that is the time to bust out something really delicious, beautiful, and special.  Do I down six cupcakes a day myself?  Heck no.  Do I suggest that anyone else do so?  Again - heck no.  But there is a place in life for treats - on those days when you ask yourself do I really need this cupcake?, and the answer is YES.  Then I go for it!

Zucchini spice cupcakes are both one of my favorite, and a timely recipe to share, as this is the peak of zucchini season.  I should know.  This is our garden:

It's a 600 square foot monstrosity of a project that we meticulously plan and plant every spring, and then spend the rest of the growing season alternating between wanton neglect and furious weeding, watering, and de-pestifying (don't get me started on that one!).  It has the very big advantage that our kids will eat ANYTHING that comes out of it - even if the same vegetable would be scorned on a normal basis.  In fact, well into the winter, whenever the kids as if something came from our garden, the answer is always yes.  Frozen peas?  Yup.  Potatoes?  You betcha.  Mangoes?  Absolutely, kid now eat up!

We always have some crops that do better than others, but one that is pretty reliable is zucchini.  Not the best picture, I know, but it's what is on the vine at the moment.  I use this in every recipe imaginable from tacos to pasta sauce, but I admit that my favorite recipe is zucchini bread like my mom used to make (but I add chocolate chips).  

My love for that tasty treat led us to create our Zucchini Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing.  The original recipe was adapted from  They are moist, spicy, and perfect for fall, and for using up all the zucchini from your garden.  Summer squash works just as well - you just won't have the green flecks in the batter.

The recipe:

2 ½ C flour
2 TSP cinnamon
½ TSP ground cloves
2 TSP baking powder
1 TSP baking soda
1 TSP salt
1 1/3 C sugar
½ C oil
½ C orange juice
3 eggs
1 TSP almond extract
1 ½ C shredded zucchini

1. Combine dry ingredients and whisk together
2. Beat sugar, oil, juice, eggs and extract
3. Slowly add dry mixture
4. Fold in zucchini
5.  Bake in cupcake pans for ~18 minutes at 350 degrees.

The cupcakes are done when a toothpick comes out clean and they spring back to the touch.  This recipe rises well so don't overfill the cups.  My favorite frosting for these is a cinnamon cream cheese, but they would be delicious with vanilla or almond buttercream, or even a white chocolate icing!  


Race Recape: Quaboag Plantatation Triathlon

¼ mile swim, 12 mile bike, 2.8 mile run
July 6th, 2013
The Before
My 5 year old daughter (SwimBikeGirl) was sick the night before, so I went to bed just before 10:00 pm wondering how much sleep I would get. She started coughing around 2:30, so after a couple of hours of checking on her every ½ hour or so, I gave up and got up at 4:30. Breakfast was coffee, PB&J, and 2 cups of hot water. I picked up TriBuddy at 5:30. We got to the race at 6:00 am – first ones there. We racked our bikes and set up our transition areas. I put sunscreen on (mistake #1 – next time numbers FIRST) bc the sun was already brutal. Got written on, and just kind of milled around watching people come in. We met several members of my triathlon club (Central MA Multisports) – they all had great advice for transitions and first races in general. I took some Immodium and 3 ShokBloks around 7:00 am. TriBuddy and I did a swim warm-up and met a couple of other newbies (we may have been the only ones!!). I wore my blue tinted goggles – definitely a good choice, as the swim back was straight into the sun. The defogger I got at the store was also $8 well spent.

It got to be close to 8:00 so we all bunched up for the swim. It was a wave start – men over 40 first, and then women under 40. As we were standing there one of the CMMS gang found me again and reiterated that I could take my time in the swim, just breathe – everyone here is here to help you. It was nice.
Triathlon Day (10)
Standing in the water waiting was not nice. Most anxiety filled portion of the whole day. It was 2 minutes, then 1 minute, 30 seconds, then GO!
The Swim 12:32

The swim was ¼ mile out to a buoy and then back to the beach a little ways down, to make a “shark tooth”. I went steady. I did not go fast (I don’t really have a “fast” anyway). I wasn’t too jostled – most of my wave was ahead of me. I did get too close to one woman a couple of times. She was doing breaststroke and I got froggy kicked, so moved over and gave her some space. I didn’t panic, I sighted fine. It was pretty hard to see. Just slow and steady and swam until my hand hit sand. I was mildly gratified to not be the last out of the water in my wave. My lungs were burning though. Man. In retrospect, I wasn’t exhaling enough underwater to allow myself a full breath in while I swam.
T1 1:20
The first thing I saw running up the chute was a running buddy and her kiddos come to cheer me on, and I heard what sounded like lots of people yelling my name. It was awesome – I can’t believe she came all the way down with the kids, and the CMMS gang was great. Or whoever was yelling. Love them all. Got to my spot. My cap was taken from me when I got out of the water, so… goggles down, sunglasses, helmet, rinse feet, shoes and go. Pretty smooth.

The Bike 46:28 (15.49 mph)
The bike course immediately goes up a hill. No problem – hills are ok. First thing I noticed was that my computer wasn’t going. Tried to fiddle with it, and just gave up and settled in to “racing naked”. That’s fine. Maybe that is what was meant to happen today – the universe’s way of making me be present. The second thing I noticed is that my lungs were on fire. Unlike usual in biking, my lungs were so ripped up from the swim that I could NOT catch my breath. This continued the entire rest of the ride. Even on flats, I could not breathe. A mile into the bike I dropped my chain. Again – “this is ok” I told myself. I coasted to a stop and pulled my bike onto the grass. I started fiddling with it, when two women appeared from nowhere offered to help. I must have stopped in front of their houses and they came over and offered to hold my bike up while I fixed it. I will love these women forever, whoever they are. I remember telling them “this is my first race I have to finish!!!” Fixed and up – going again. I would guess I lost about 4 minutes. The rest of the bike was unremarkable. It was a rolling course – no real big hills in either direction. I still couldn’t push up the hills like usual (or perhaps I could and it just hurt more). Legs were 100% fine, lungs were dying. I got passed by all the fast men over 40 (the wave after mine), but not too many women. And I felt ok. I tried really hard to breathe. I tried to drink some from my water bottle and managed another ShokBlok – it was just so hot and dofficult to catch my breath long enough that I felt stable on the bike to fuss with my water bottle. There was a crash around mile 7 with an ambulance – I saw a woman in a blue tri kit with a red helmet down on the side of the road. Spent the rest of the ride looking at the runners coming up and trying to find TriBuddy, because I was pretty sure her helmet was white, but I wasn’t 100%. Gave prayers and thanks to the gods for keeping me safe and hoped the other woman wasn’t too badly hurt. I finally saw TriBuddy running up the hill from transition and was very relieved. Again I didn’t know it, but my time on the bike for 12 miles was 46 minutes. My goal was 44, so with my chain problems, I paced exactly where I hoped to.
Triathlon Day (19)

T2 1:12
Bike in and down then ran to my spot. I decided was too tired to try the standing shoe transition, so I sat down most ungracefully. Whatever. I didn’t get enough sand off my feet before the bike and it was bugging me, so I was glad I brought socks for the run. Helmet off (biggest fear #2 – running in a bike helmet – check!) hat on. Sock #1 on. Oh crap its upside down. Fix, sock #2 – also upside down. The trick of rolling your socks so they slide right on apparently isn’t so good for getting the heel side up. Whatever. Bike on the rack (someone was trying to take my picture doing this – it was also ungraceful).

The Run 32:05
Triathlon Day (20)

The run course also starts running up a hill. I didn’t even touch my Garmin to try to turn it on. I was meant to do this race “naked”. My legs were a little heavy, but still the lungs were harder. And the sun was BLAZING. My right arm under my number started to hurt – I knew then that my sunscreen had been wiped a bit when they put the number on and I was burning. All I wanted was to not walk. I settled into a shuffling pace – probably no more than 12 or 11 minute miles, and just plowed along. A couple of times runners passed me and said “Don’t give up!” and I said “I’m not! I’m not giving up – this is just how I run!!!” Saw TriBuddy again just before the turnaround – she crossed the road and we high-fived and we both said WE GOT THIS. I turned around, grabbed a cup of water, and started jogging back. Sun sun sun sun. Burn burn burn. I told myself I would not walk. And I didn’t. Coming back into the finish, I did pick it up to a reasonable pace and sprinted the chute. I finally saw my family on the hill, and my running buddy and her kids. As I ran in the clock said 98 minutes and change and I thought I’m gonna get there before 100!! (I still don’t know what that means). My time was 32 minutes, for a 2.8 mile course. My overall time for the race was 1:33:17 (100/120). All in all about where I had hoped to be – the best version of the race that I could do.
Triathlon Day (24)
As soon as I crossed the finish, I stopped but the world didn’t. It rotated 90 degrees. TriBuddy’s husband came over and I held onto him while trying not to throw up. Hubby and the kids came over – I crouched down to give the kids a hug. My 4 year old son said “you did great Mommy” and I hugged him and cried. I think Hubby kind of moved me into the water then and then TriBuddy gave me Gatorade. I remember arguing with Hubby that the kids should go in the lake because it was so hot. It’s all kind of blurry. Coming back a CMMS teammate found me and told me to eat. Eat NOW. Protein. Or I would get sick. I tried to comply – ate a banana and some trail mix/granola. Drank a ton. World was still all spinny.
Triathlon Day (26)

Kids race

Kids got numbered up! We got them registered and into their puddle jumpers. Set up their transition zones. We got them down to the water. The 11-13 year olds went first and they all just ran through the water. Cheaters. 7-9 year olds next and that wave did the same. Then it was the 4-6 year olds turn!! My kids both resolutely refused to run. They swam the whole thing. SwimBikeGirl kept wanting to go in deeper (the kids race was along the shore) and I kept telling her no swim to the flags!! The flags!! Hubby and I suggested they get up and run and they said no Mommy it’s a SWIM!! Gotta love their dedication.
Got SwimBikeGirl up and into the chute, back to our transition. Getting everyone, including Hubby and I, back into our shoes seemed to take years. Then SwimBikeGirl was out and riding. The kids’ race goes up the hill immediately as well. She pedaled and pedaled and I pushed her a little bit. Once they hit the flat SwimBikeBoy took off so I ran after him. It was so hard to run. That kid is FAST. At the turnaround there were 3 cones set up in a triangle about 4 feet apart. The kids are supposed to go around all of them. SwimBikeBoy showed off for all the police officers by going THROUGH the first 2, looping a tight turn around the last, and threading back through the front 2 again. Everyone was laughing and cheering for him! I yelled “That’s my kid!!!” Then sprinted again to catch him. Oh my. At the top of the hill both kids got a little nervous, so Hubby and I each grabbed a handlebar and jogged them down the hill and into the chute. SwimBikeBoy took off again.
run mommy

Back to T2 – little bikes down helmets off RUN. SwimBikeGirl was in her element. She ran and ran. I paced her while Hubby stayed with SwimBikeBoy, who took a quick walking break about 1/2way around the field (the run was a 300M around a field). I was actually pushing to keep up with SwimBikeGirl, who was gleefully recounting something about Phineas and Ferb and the magic necklace she was wearing that made her super fast. We got into the chute and I said “Run Run tell me about it later!!” So we ran in and she got her medal and was SO proud. A couple of minutes later Hubby and SwimBikeBoy ran in. The kids were so psyched.
jamie tri

Race Recap - Red Rock Warrior Challenge Triathlon

3.1 mile Run, 12.5 mile Bike, 1.25 mile Kayak
Upton, MA August 17th, 2013

This was the first triathlon I registered for – with shaking fingers and my heart in my throat – about five months ago.  Back then I could hardly run a mile, and hadn’t been swimming since middle school, unless you count my kids’ infant swim classes at the YMCA.  So a triathlon with a kayak leg sounded a lot friendlier than a typical swim/bike/run format.
Naturally, anxiety loves company, so my first goal was to get some girlfriends to join the insanity with me. (I apparently missed the memo about team uniform).
Fast forward five months of training, including a swim/bike/run sprint triathlon in July, a 50 mile ride a few weeks back, and getting these girls comfy(ish) on their bikes, and we are at the starting line.
The Run  29:42 (51/59)
Running is by far my weakest sport.  My training has been interrupted with injuries more often than not.  For this race I was sporting a pretty sore hip flexor on both legs, so my main goal was to avoid further injury.  I was psyched it was up first, because given the choice I’d rather get the most painful part of any process over with first.  We all lined up and off we went.  For the first ½ mile or so I paced Friend #346, who is a long term runner and training for the Boston Marathon next year.  My Garmin said 8:30 minute miles, so I decided it must be broken bc I don’t run that fast.  Eventually Friend #346 took off, and I settled into my usual 9-10 minute pace.  I knew I was toward the back, but I didn’t care, because holding that pace and focusing on springy calves and short steps to avoid aggravating my already hurt hip was my goal.  The route was pretty hilly – I couldn’t catch up to many people on the downhills, but the uphills were a different story.  I don’t know if its cross-over from biking being my strongest sport, or that I’ve focused my training runs in hilly country, but I can run up when others are walking.  So.  One of my race goals was also to smile for the cameras to avoid the hideous race photos from my previous tri – a shining moment was when I saw the camera girl, told her I was gonna LOOK at her this time! and grinned as big as I could.  The rest of the run went smoothly, holding that pace until I crossed the mat and headed into T1.  My Garmin said something that was less than 30:00, but as I had earlier decided it must be broken I didn’t give it much credibility.

T1 1:25
My loving husband, after watching me comically try to take off my bike shoes, put on socks, take off socks, put on running shoes, etc. and then fall on my butt in frustration at a previous tri, kindly bought me a 5 gallon bucket and painted it bright orange for me.  Does it scream “serious athlete here!!!”?  No.  But darnnit if I wasn’t happy to sit my tired buns down and put on my bike shoes with no drama.  After patting myself down head to butt to make sure my helmet was indeed on, my race belt was indeed backward, etc. I was off on the bike.
The Bike  47:56 (29/59)
I love my bike.  I extra loved it today because yesterday it was having shifting issues and I managed to fix it myself, with no help from husband (who had tried to fix it for several hours the day prior with no success).  The fact that the shifting issues were caused by my fumbling attempts to learn to remove the wheels and change a flat tire is neither here nor there.

Knowing that the bike would be where I could make up time from my run, I settled in and spent the first 2 miles or so getting my breathing nice and steady after being a little winded from the run.   The road course was pretty cracked in places, with a good number of sharp turns, so not falling was also a big goal.  The first 5 miles were all downhill or flat, and again I couldn’t pick off anyone.  Then around mile 5 the first long climb started after a sharp right turn.  Hello hills!!  I started passing several people up the hill and on the long rollers that followed, including Friend #346 who had smoked me on the run.  It was around this stretch where I got to witness some truly frightening biking behavior – like riding near the double yellow line, three abreast.  Sorry folks, but if you are going to do any kind of ride involving a bike on non-closed roads, pleasefollow safe riding practices.  I always feel extra motivated to pass these types of people, so that when they get squished by a car I am ahead of the accident, not right behind it…..  Around mile 9 is what the race director termed the “Big *ss Hill” – it was tough but again I felt good and picked off a few more.  The last 3 miles or so is all flat and downhill, so I threw it in the big chainring and kept checking the bike computer to keep above 20 mph back into T2.
T2 (00:38)
There wasn’t much to do in T2 except rack my bike and pull off my shoes (and forget my hat).  I I stuffed my still-socked feet into some flip flops and ran over to the kayak launch.  ran slow and made sure to give big waves to hubby and kiddos who had been diligently spectating for over an hour at this point (which is a lifetime when it is hot and sunny and you are 4 and 5 years old).  What is NOT reflected in this time is how long it took me to grab my boat and get it in the water while several other people did the same.  There was only space to launch one at a time, and after I was cut off by at least 2 people it became apparent that my being polite and taking turns wasn’t going to work.  So I threw my 50 lb boat in front of the woman who was trying to edge me out and launched.
The Kayak 18:56 (25/59)
By the time I was in the boat, I definitely felt like the big portion of the race was over.  After all, I had zero idea what to expect or what the kayak would be like – even what a decent time would be.  After the first turn buoy it was a free for all.  No one seemed to know exactly the route – people going in and out were crossing.  Paddling straight was not a skill many of us had.  Kind of fun to watch all of us so focused on the run and bike paddle in zigzags and laugh to each other.  So we all kind of water-bugged around, a few people shrieking and throwing spiders out of our disused rental boats once in a while.  I enjoyed kayaking without a preschooler in my cockpit throwing off my steering, and eventually made it back to where we came in.  My shoulders and arms were all done!  When it was time to stand up and exit the kayak, my legs wouldn’t work!!  I had to try twice, finally got up and stumbled onto dry land, then ran up the slope through the finish line!!!
My family missed my finish due to the kids having “had it” and my husband underestimating how quickly I’d finish the kayak leg (I forgave him as soon as he told me that).  The feeling was amazing.  I felt SO GOOD finishing this triathlon, compared to my last one where I almost fainted at the finish line.  Had some water, cheered my girlfriends in, and it was a great day!!!!

Overall time was 1:38:35 (34/59).  If there were age groups (the race was too small) I’d have been 2nd out of the 30-39 year old women!  Not.  Too.  Bad.  Most importantly, I felt like all the hard work training I’ve done since my last race had really paid off.  Which is great incentive to keep doing it!


The Making of Hunger Games Cake

In this post I share with you all what actually goes into these cakes and how we work together as a family to make them.  I took photos along the way of my most recent creation: a Hunger Games themed birthday cake for our good friend and babysitter.

This cake started about two weeks ago.  I molded the mockingjay topper out of modeling chocolate (which is just chocolate and corn syrup) and covered in in gold luster dust.  The "arrow" is an uncooked spaghetti noodle.  Into the fridge to cool, then down to the basement it goes!

Then to make the board.  The board is cardboard covered in fondant that is allowed to harden for several days.  This is also a make-ahead.  As you can see, Natalie helped me with this.  She brushed the board with piping gel while I rolled out the fondant, and then helped me texture it using a cobblestone mat, brush with black cake sparkles and brown petal dust, and paint the "cracks" so that the board would look like the coals that the flaming cake would go on.  She does a great job as a little helper!

Then today, the day before it is due, Mike baked the cakes, made the frosting and the filling.  This is critical - he does so much of the work while I am working.  The cake is chocolate with raspberry filling.  Yum!  My favorite trick at the moment to get really smooth buttercream frosting is to rotate several spatulas in hot water.  This melts the frosting as you are spreading it to get it nice and smooth.  Once the cake is frosted, VERY CAREFULLY moved the mockingjay into place. 

The flames and the berries on the sides are fondant.  Start with several fire colors and rope them together and roll out to make a tie-dyed effect.

Then hand cut the flames and stick to the side of the cake with a little water.

Leaves and berries the same.  Very carefully pipe the birthday message on top with black frosting (I'm skipping over the part where Mike dropped the bowl he was mixing the black in on the floor and it shattered all over, requiring him to vaccuum and wake the kids).

The finishing touch is hot gluing a ribbon to the edge of the board - and the cake is done and ready to photograph and deliver.