Monday, July 29, 2013

Back Up Machine

A customer liked this large
messenger bag, but wanted
something smaller.
This is the smaller purse
that I created for her using
the same dragon embroidery,
which she wanted in purple.
Earlier this year, a customer contacted me about one of my bags. She loved the dragon embroidery, but wanted to be able to use the bag as a purse and, alas, a messenger bag was a bit big. Would it be possible to create a smaller version?

Of course, my answer was yes.

However, part-way through the project, I had a small snag with my sewing machine. A piece of thread got sucked down into the throat plate and I couldn't get it all out. So, I sent the Futura to be serviced and picked up a cheap back-up machine to finish off the job and for whenever the other one goes in for servicing in the future. Since the machine is supposed to be a backup, I didn't get anything terribly fancy or expensive - just functional and readily available at Target to finish a quick project that I knew would fit my specialty sewing feet. I got a Singer Brilliance:

How is it Overall? 
Originally, I planned to do a detailed review, as I did at one point with my Futura. However, after using it for a while, I decided it wasn't worth the effort of doing a full review. I only spent about as much on it as it cost to service and clean my other machine. And it shows.

Singer Brilliance in the Box
For example, I have it sitting on a very, very solid table, and it vibrates so horribly that I won't run it at full speed. It's also a lot louder than any sewing machine I've previously worked with. The other machines I've worked with in the past have had a place to place a spool horizontally as well as a holder in the back for large, vertical spools. This model does not have a spot in the back for large spools, which is a problem for me given the quantities of thread I go through. It also seems to be balanced poorly and I can't get into sleeves or other small places as easily as with other machines I've worked with in the past.

A part of me wonders whether I got a lemon right out of the box because I swear I smell something faintly funny when I use it. (Like a very faint whiff of something burning - but then again, I've also got a super-sensitive pregnancy nose right now and maybe it's because it's newly out of the factory? I'm planning to put in a call to customer service to ask.)

The controls are easy to navigate and there aren't too many things that can really be altered. I would say that this machine is OK if you're only occasionally doing a bit of light sewing. However, if you're planning to sew any more than one or two projects a year, you're probably better off buying a used machine off of craigslist that's older but better-built.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Easy Strawberry Cheesecake

One of my husband's co-workers specifically asked me for this recipe after I sent a bunch of it with my husband to the barracks work. One of his co-workers commented that it was better than the cheesecake served at the Cheesecake Factory.

This surprisingly easy strawberry cheesecake is a variation off of the New York-Style Cheesecake recipe found in The Cake Mix Doctor. I used fresh strawberries that were starting to dry out just a little bit, which probably reduces the amount of moisture in the finished cake. I wouldn't recommend using frozen berries as they just produce too much water.

Easy Strawberry Cheesecake
1 pkg. yellow cake mix
4 Tbsp butter, melted (1/2 a stick)
4 eggs
2 pkg. cream cheese (total of 16 oz.), at room temperature
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

1) Heat oven to 325° Lightly grease a pan. I used two 9" round springform pans, but you could also use a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.

2) Set aside 1/2 cup of the cake mix for the filling. Place the rest of the mix (most of the box), melted butter, and 1 egg in a mixing bowl to make the crust. Mix until the batter makes a ball, then transfer it to your pan and spread evenly on the bottom and up the sides.

3) For the filling, mix the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk in a mixing bowl. (The beauty of this recipe is that you don't need to clean the bowl and beaters you used to make the crust.) Blend until just combined, then add the 1/2 cup of reserved cake mix, remaining 3 eggs, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Beat for a minute.

4) Stir in the fresh strawberries, then pour into the crust. Spread the filling around so that it's an even layer inside the crust.

5) Bake at 325° until the center doesn't jiggle when pan is shaken and top is kind of shiny. This will take at least 40 minutes. When it's done, transfer it into the fridge and let it cool there for at least an hour. Anything made with cream cheese seems to taste better the next day, and this is especially true for cheesecake. I try to let mine sit in the fridge a full day (or at least overnight) before serving.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Planning a Spring Garden in the Middle of Summer

At one point, I used to work at Green Spring Gardens, a horticultural demonstration garden in Fairfax County Virginia. It's a little-known gem of a park that is stuffed full of themed flower gardens showcasing species and varieties that do well in the Northern Virginia area. The gardeners there spent years planning and editing the gardens to include species that were not only atypical, but also thrived and provided beauty throughout the seasons of the year.

I learned that the best time to start planning for your spring garden was well before the bulbs traditionally show up for sale at the local garden center. The gardeners would walk through the gardens in spring, taking notes of what worked and what didn't and what needed more of a particular color where while the spring bulbs were still up. All of the gardeners there had their wish lists finalized and orders placed before mid-July (often, much sooner) in order to secure the best pricing and selection from mail order bulb suppliers.
Photo from a trip to Buschart Garden last spring.
My Bulb-planting Philosophy
I plant bulbs in blocks - intensive drifts which may end up having wide gaps of no bulbs between them at all. Why? Two reasons: