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Flowers

After spending the first part of today starting hundreds of vegetable seeds, we refueled with Mexican take-out and started—for fun—some flowers.  Safe to say we have a big crush on them.  Not one flower in particular, just all of them.  Simple, right?

How does something like this start?  With a daydream, of course.  And lots of inspiration.  With Sam in the Baby Jogger and the dogs in tow, we set up shop in the greennhouse.  We selected eight different varieties we wanted to begin with, took a few notes, then fashioned markers from some old bamboo trellis we had laying around.  Since we’re doing this project for fun, we relaxed our standards some and just broke the bamboo into pieces, then marked each one on top with a sticker.  Rather than try to write all the seed info on each marker, we assigned each variety a number.  

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John filled thirty-two six-cell trays with seed-starting mix, and I followed behind and starting dropping seeds.  Some we dropped right on the surface, barely covering them.  Others went about 1/4-inch deep.

We started Celosia, Sweet Pea, Amaranthus, and Scabiosa.  Some cells inadvertently got several seeds, as celosia seeds–in particular–are miniscule.  About as small as poppy seeds.  When complete, I flagged each group of cells with the appropriate marker and, in about an hour, we were finished.

Since today’s work was really for experimenting, we only started 24 cells for each variety.  Later today we’ll go back down to the greenhouse and very lightly mist the trays, and early tomorrow morning we’ll move them into the light.  We’ll continue to take notes once germination begins, and in a few days we’ll start some more.  Excited to see how these take off…

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Chefs & Chicks

While we’re still a couple of weeks away from resuming our CSA deliveries, we use this “free” time to get caught up on all kinds of projects on the farm.  But without a real schedule keeping us in place, it means that every day is different.  So trying to organize a blog post around how we’re spending our time is tricky.  Because when I look back at the day’s photos, no themes emerge.  Hence this post here, built around the two most interesting things from the past couple of days: chefs & chicks.

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Yesterday we had a visit from Greg Bussey and Matthew Ford, chefs from Consilient Hospitality, who were here to pick up some vegetables for the Cafe Momentum dinner this Thursday evening.  Organized by Matt Ford, the Harvest Moon dinner will be hosted at The Wine Poste in the Design District.  We’re more than excited to attend, but the veggies will be the real star of the dinner.  In addition to the other locally raised products they’ll be featuring on the menu, Greg & Matt took home all kinds of Comeback Creek Farm goodies: kabocha squash, butternut squash, and cushaw squash, plus green okra, summer squash, sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

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The guys stayed a couple of hours, and left just before sunset.  Thanks to a late afternoon shower we’d had, there was a bit of a breeze in the air, which made being out on the farm way more pleasant.  While the guys made their way from the greenhouse up to the pepper patch, I snuck off and took a few pictures of some wildflowers growing near the creek bottom on our land.

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As I mentioned, there’s just been too much excitement here the last couple of days, and it practically overflowed this morning when our chicks from Meyer Hatchery arrived.  We ordered 100+ additional chicks to increase Oscar’s flock, a mix of Rhode Island Reds and Dominique breed chicks.

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Our post office called around 7:00 this morning to let us know the chicks were here.  Some of them were still jet lagged from the trip.

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Don’t you just love the color on this Dominique?  Considered a heritage breed of chicken, they’ve been in America for hundreds of years but are now considered somewhat endangered.  Unlike the Barred Rock, the Dominique will grow up to have a rose comb versus the Barred Rock’s’ single comb.

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A baby Rhode Island Red chick.  Today this breed is really making a comeback (no pun intended) thanks to small flock owners.  Considered the all-purpose bird, they really do everything: they’re great egg layers, they’re valued for their meat, and they are very hardy birds in general.  The bulk of the truly free-range farm eggs we offer to our CSA Members come from Rhode Island Reds.

In other news, our new t-shirts came in last week!  We’ve already had many current members express interest in them, and as soon as we can get them uploaded to the website, we’ll start taking orders.  We went with a new source this time around, S.O.S. from Texas, and we couldn’t be happier with the finished product.

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These t-shirts are made from 100% locally grown, organic cotton raised on their family-owned farm in Samnorwood.  It just doesn’t get more local or sustainable than that.

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A Pancake for Dinner

Not what you were expecting, right?  This “pancake” is made from butternut squash and it’s two best friends: fresh sage and brown butter.  Throw a little Italian parsley, garlic, and mozzarella into the mix and you’ve got the most amazing dish on your hands.  But I’ve gotta be honest: I never would have thought to combine fresh, milky mozzarella with roasted butternut squash.  The combination just never occured to me.  Thankfully, it did to Deborah Madison, who I’ve adapted this recipe from.  Three times already, in fact!

First: you need about 3 lbs. of butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and brush a little olive oil over the cut side and in the seed cavity.  Sprinkle with a little salt, and roast the squash cut-side down on a sheet pan in an oven preheated to 375 — for about 1 hr – 1 hr 30 min, depending on the size of your squash.  (For my squash below, it took about 1 hour exactly.  I flipped the squash over to let them cool.)

If you’re a CSA member, you’re going to be getting plenty of beautiful, deeply flavorful winter squash this season, so you’ll already have the main ingredient on-hand any given week.  Step 1: check!  On to step 2:  When the roasted squash is sufficiently cool, scoop out the flesh and put into a large bowl.  Using a fork or a large spoon, mash and stir the squash until it’s smooth.  Season with a little kosher salt, and set aside.

Next, get a large saute pan and melt 3 Tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat.  When the butter is melted and foamy, add about 10 sage leaves, or more if you like.  Swirl the butter in the pan until the sage leaves start to smell very fragrant and the butter takes on a brownish hue and nutty aroma, about 1 – 2 minutes. (Your kitchen / house will smell sooo good by this point.)  Then add the mashed butternut squash.  Using a spatula, spread it in an even layer to cover the bottom of the pan.  Cook for 5 – 7 minutes, then stir the squash and spread it again in an even layer.  Repeat this step several times, for a total of about 15 – 20 minutes.  What you’re trying to do is remove the excess moisture from the squash, drying it out some so it becomes thick, dense, and very smooth. Plus, you’re letting the bottom of the pancake char and brown in some places while it cooks, then stirring all those flavorful bits into the pancake, then browning it again, then stirring it in again…creating more and more flavor as you go.

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While the pancake is cooking, finely chop 1 clove of garlic and about 3 Tablespoons of Italian parsley.  Then, thinly slice 6 – 8 oz. of fresh mozzarella cheese.  (Alternatively, you can also use shredded mozzarella with equally good results.)  When the pancake is nearly done, sprinkle the parsley-garlic mixture over the pancake, then layer the sliced mozzarella on top.  Grab the lid of your pan (or tinfoil, if your lid has gone missing as ours tends to do), and cover the pancake for 5 minutes or so to melt the mozzarella.  Once the mozzarella is good and melted, turn off the heat and let the pancake sit for a minute or two.  Then cut the pancake into whatever size slices you desire, and serve straight from the pan for all to enjoy.  We usually yield about 6 – 7 slices, which makes a nice vegetarian main course for dinner.

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Our Week in Pictures

According to the schedule I set for myself I’m a day late with these, but here they are!

Early last week we paid a visit to our friend Carlisle’s house, to pick up some free-range chicken eggs for ourselves.  He also raises quail, for eggs, and had recently finished construction on their new house.  He uses salvaged barn wood from very old barns to build all his pens, and it gives them a really rustic, natural look.  We daydream about getting a few ducks in the future, and if we do, I’d like to have Carlisle build us the duck pen — he does such a fantastic job.

On our walk one morning we encountered this very Secret Garden-esque little covey.  Really it’s a dry creek bed that’s been taken over by native ivy, forming a tunnel, but with a little imagination it sure does look beautiful, doesn’t it?  

A small harvest of late-season yellow crookneck squash resulted in this Summer Squash & Corn soup.  There are two ways you can make this soup, with frozen or fresh corn, and here I’ve used frozen.  I’ll post the recipe soon, because it’s so good and so easy you’ll want to put it in your soup rotation.  And it’s a terrific way to use any variety of summer squash (so long as it’s yellow) that you’ve got laying around.

We made it to Dallas last week and John visited with a few chefs from CBD Provisions about what we would have coming up this Fall and Winter.

The last couple of weeks we’ve been working on cleaning up all the peppers on the farm, which means weeding them, adding string to those that need extra support, and picking cull peppers from the plants.  The gypsy peppers, which remain a light lime-yellow almost all summer, have just started to turn their late-season shades of red and orange.  We actually prefer them this time of year, because with their change in hue comes a deepening of flavor — if you ask us.  Fall, all around, is a better season for peppers overall, if you have established healthy plants in the ground.  There’s enough heat and sunlight to keep them growing, but not so much that it ripens the fruit too early and/or burns the peppers.
We made it over to the specialty coffee shop Weekend Coffee in downtown Dallas while we were there.  Isn’t it cool?  They serve fresh beans from Seattle-based Victrola Coffee, and it’s excellent.  We had a cappucino and a latte, and felt like we were on vacation or something — the experience was that good.  You really should go check it out.

The zucchini’s we planted for fall are starting to produce.  Hopefully the grasshoppers won’t destroy the plants before we can start getting some substantial harvests.  There was some major bee action on the plants when we went out to walk the field.  Always a good sign.

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On Any Given Day…

Fresh marjoram, an herb akin to oregano, is hanging in there despite this ruthless heat we’ve been having.  It’s one of our favorite herbs, in part because of it’s subtle fragrance and flavor, but also because of it’s lovely little rosette-shaped foliage.  But we just don’t maximize it in our cooking like we ought to.  Barbara, John’s mom, picked up these plants for us from Blue Moon Gardens, to replace our others that mysteriously died.  They still aren’t as established as we’d like them to be, but once they put on more growth we hope to begin cutting from them for our CSA.

This is part of the view from our kitchen window now.  But the bird feeder, unfortunately, has become a prop.  Not one bird has come by to visit since we moved it, but—naively—we remain hopeful.  And believe it or not, these grasshoppers were courting each other.  This is the situation we’re in right now, folks.  Grasshoppers everywhere, and still mating!

Composted chicken litter going in on the half-acre acre we cleared last week.  We tilled it in this afternoon, and in the next few days we’ll cover it with commercial-grade landscape fabric before we lay drip tape and then plant.  Weeds remain a serious problem for us, so we’re hoping the fabric—though an investment—will make a huge difference.

A small refill order of seeds came in today.  Simple, lovely little things like radishes, turnips, and a handful of specialty greens for Fall.  Seed packet art and type from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is always a joy to encounter.

On the way in to town this afternoon, the horses in our neighbor’s pasture looked especially peaceful.  Such amazing, beautiful creatures they are.  If you had the time or inclination, you could just watch them for hours.  

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