Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Hits and Misses

When we decided we wanted to homestead and live a more old school, traditional way of life we anticipated there would be many ups and downs along the way. When we decided that we wanted to turn our homestead into a business we anticipated that there is no way to determine what ups and downs there will be and it would be best to just roll with it. So that is how we spent the year... rolling with the unanticipated ups and downs, learning from our many (and many) mistakes, and continuing to chase our dream of a life filled with animals, gardens, kids and art.
To end our year we would like to share the hits and misses we had along the way. Since I like to end things on a positive note I will first share with you the lowlights of the year...
Our misses for 2015
  • This was our first year taking our garden to the farmer's market to do that in Wisconsin meant we needed to start seeds...many seeds... indoors. We have never started seeds on a scale this large and lost a lot of plants along the way from over and under watering as well as not maintaining proper light. Tackling the delicate art of growing indoors has taught us it is not as easy as it sounds, and it needs much attention, practice and care along the way.
  • Our seeds were not our only loss this year we also lost our sweet alpaca Chestnut. He and our ram got tangled in a battle and the ram won. There was a testosterone tension between them once our ram matured we had an appointment to have our alpaca neutered and kept them separated  in the meantime. Unfortunately 2 days before the appointment the ram broke through the fence and that was the end of Chestnut. We still miss the big guy and feel responsible for the loss.
  • Since we are on the topic of loss... we also lost 2 of our ewe's lambs shortly after Chestnut. This was our first year with pregnant animals and one of our ewes gave birth to a still born lamb. She was pregnant with twins and lost the second one as well a short time later needing some assistance with the delivery.  
  • Looking back the misses of the year have all been losses we grew the most delicious tomatoes we have ever harvested and lost close to 70 plants  to blight half way through the harvesting season. This means we can't grow tomatoes on the same soil and have to move our garden next year.
  • We lost a few of our seeds early in the year maybe to bad germination maybe to poor sowing either way we had many seeds that never sprouted.
  • Because of our mistakes early on we got a late start at the market. We planned to have our stand up the entire season but only were able to for the second half.
  • We got a few of our crops in the ground too late like melons, cucumbers and a variety of peas that didn't mature before the cold hit, and some seeds that didn't sprout at all.
  • We lost control of our weed growth early in the spring resulting in a week long weed pulling fair later in the summer to regain control of the garden.
  • We under-watered early in the year resulting in poor growth for a few crops.
  • We under-mounded our potatoes decreasing our yield and growth.
  • Our final loss of the year was a technical issue loosing nearly all of our blog photos with the click of a button.
With this list being shared yes there were many mistakes, many losses, and with some of them tears, and overall many lessons learned. With everything lost we gained a new insight and appreciation we also gained knowledge for the next year ahead.
It wasn't so bad though for a first year, like I mentioned I like to remain positive and end on a good note we had many hits along the way as well...
  • Although we lost two lambs we also successfully delivered one to our other ewe. This was our first time delivering an animal so there was a bit of tension in the air. The closest thing to experience was delivering my 3 children but that was done in a hospital with doctors not alone in a field.... thank God. Thankfully though the delivery went well the lamb was born healthy and quickly bonded with his mother.
  • We also learned how to milk our sheep. After our first ewe lost her lamb we milked her just to see if we could That way if there was an emergency in the other delivery we would be able to get milk yet to the newest lamb. Thankfully though we didn't need this skill and everything went perfectly.
  • I sheared our ram for the first time and was able to get his full coat off in one piece. I also trimmed his hooves and gave the animals their shots for the first time with my husband's direction. I never imagined I would one day be doing the vet work for my livestock but it is pretty awesome I am.
  • Once the lamb was matured my husband successfully slaughtered and butchered him which was much harder on me than I anticipated. I knew that he was being raised to feed our family, and I have butchered chickens before, but it was really sad especially considering the excitement in delivering him. Through my sobbing my poor husband did a perfect job and the lamb was humanely and respectfully treated.
  •  We didn't loose everything in the garden this season we still had a lot of success with our squash and greens in fact we are still able to harvest our kale under the snow. Red Russian kale will forever be a staple in our garden for this reason. Harvesting in December keeps us closer to the garden all year it looks like we will still be able to harvest this January.
  • While we were still getting tomatoes from the garden we had a lot of success selling them with our squash, potatoes and greens at the market. We also were able to sell them to local grocery stores. It was pretty awesome to see vegetables we grew and harvested sitting in the produce department at local stores.
  • Although it seemed that the farm work took up the majority of our time I was still busy in the studio. I had my most successful year yet selling my artwork online and at markets. I already have a number of custom orders and opportunities lined up for January.
Using everything we have learned this year we are anxiously planning for 2016. We are eager to see what lessons we will learn and what adventures we stumble upon as the year ones on.
Thank you to everyone who has supported our dreams along the way we are blessed to have you and thank you also for reading. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Home Made Bloody Mary Mix from the Garden

 After a long day of canning our extra tomatoes from the farmer's market we were blessed with just enough fresh tomato juice to make the most perfect Bloody Mary's my husband and I ever had.  We are not normally "bloody Mary people" but the ingredients were so fresh and delicious it was nearly impossible to pass this drink up.

I usually make crushed tomatoes when I am canning because they are pretty easy to process, and I am still new at garden preserving.  It still takes a few hours per batch to make so with a couple batches to process this is easily a whole day event. What's better after a whole day of hard work than a delicious cocktail?

The juice we used as our mix base was straight fresh tomato juice left in my pot after cooking down the tomatoes. It was full of vitamins and flavor by itself but we spiced it up with a few things anyway. To make our cocktails we used 2 cups of leftover fresh juice that had been strained of seeds and added these ingredients...

1 T+ Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t granulated garlic
2 pinches of celery salt
1 pinch of sugar
2 dashes of pepper
1/2 t salt
(Chris even spiced his up a bit by adding a very small amount of minced fresh aurora pepper...yum)

We stirred all the ingredients together mixing well and set it aside. Next we prepared our mason jars (the perfect glass for an after canning cocktail in my opinion ) by giving them a salt and pepper rim. To do this we just sprinkled salt and pepper into a small plate dampened the rim of the jar and pressed it into the salt mixture.

Next we filled the glass with ice poured in 1 generous shot of vodka and topped it with the prepared mix. To garnish the drink we used ingredients fresh from our garden and other bits we bought at the farmers market and stuck them on bamboo skewers.

I encourage you to try this next time you can your tomatoes. It is a fun treat after a hard day of work.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Updates From the Studio

Things in the studio have been just as busy as things on the farm these days. We set up our weekly farmers market booth with both my artwork and our vegetables, and I try to rotate my inventory and keep things unique each week.

This summer I stumbled upon a broken cedar fence that pretty much changed the direction of everything that comes out of my studio. I have always loved recycling wood to use as a canvas for my paintings, but up until I found the fence I have never pieced them together the way I now do. Now to make my art I find the best pick of the fencing finding the boards with the most knots and grains and brace them together on the back to create a rustic, worn "canvas". What like most about using this pieced together technique is sanding the piece after I finish painting it to reveal the wood through my brightly colored art. I think it is a fun contrast between colors and texture...two of my favorite things to work with.

I'm not sure how it started but after I pieced together my first canvas I decided to paint a rainbow trout on it. I am a nature lover by heart but this was my first time painting a fish. After I painted one I couldn't get enough and began to paint more varieties of fish followed by different varieties of wild life. Since then my studio and the walls of our market booth have been covered in fish, deer, fox and other critters. The responses from our customers have been wonderful. We live on an area full of lakes and lake houses, and my artwork has found many homes here. The rustic look fits perfectly with lake living.

After the positive feedback from the market I updated my online store as well with a few pieces. I want to create a variety different than what is available at the markets to reach a broader audience and keep Crooked Coop Farm fresh.

Aside from selling the pieces I have been getting an overwhelming response for me to show my artwork at different venues, markets and shops. Currently I am looking into a few possible show places and will update as soon as possible.

I have been working on making a living as an artist since I graduated college 8 years ago with a bachelor's degree in fine art; it has been a slow process with many ups and many downs, tons of hard work and a bit of luck. Finally the dream has begun to fall into place and it is giving me a reliable income while I work from home to take care of my 3 kiddos. Not an easy road but it has been one worth the journey.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Chunky Cucumber and Dill Salad with Heirloom Tomato

Yesterday I shared a yummy soup recipe using tomatoes from the garden, and today I have a delicious recipe that Chris came up with using the same heirloom tomatoes with cucumbers.  Using all garden fresh ingredients he came up with this tangy chunky cucumber salad that is perfect to share at end of summer get to gethers.

Ingredients used:

1 cup vinegar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dill
5 cups chopped cucumber
1 large heirloom tomato diced
1 small red onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
salt pepper to taste

Combine vinegar,  sour cream, sugar and dill in a bowl mix well being sure that the sour cream is no longer lumpy. Add  cucumber, tomato, onion, garlic, salt and pepper mix well and chill at least 2 hours before serving. 

This recipe like our others is a guideline not a blueprint, and any substitutions are encouraged. Please share with us any changes you made!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Southwestern Tomato Soup from the Garden

As I mentioned in my last post our tomatoes are beginning to ripen. This is great news for us because this means we will have one more item to bring at the market, but this will also mean we will be up to our ears in tomatoes in no time! With the later in mind I figured today would be a great day to start experimenting with new tomato recipes.

The result... Southwestern Tomato Soup...yum yum.

The ingredients include:

5 medium tomatoes seeded and skinned
1 stalk celery diced
1/2 medium red onion diced
1/2 bell pepper diced...I used a purple one
1 Aurora pepper diced... this adds the kick if you don't like spice skip this ingredient
1.5 cups chicken stock 
1 can tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
3 tsp fresh cilantro

Add all ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil. Once the mixture begins to boil cover and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Let everything cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a food processor to blend in batches. It took me about 3 batches to complete the job. After it is blended thoroughly return it to the pot and heat it through.

This can be served with a dollop of sour cream and fresh cilantro to balance the heat of the aurora pepper.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Updates From the Homestead


Things have really been coming together around the farm these days, it seems that all of the hard work, ups and downs, failures and start overs have been worth the effort. As of these past two weeks Chris and I have reached our goal of bringing together the art and farm aspects of Crooked Coop Farm, and we are currently a weekly feature at the Oconomowoc Farmer's market in Oconomowoc WI. This is our current booth set up showcasing my rustic wood paintings and our first harvest from the market garden. This will be a process that changes as we figure things out along the way, but we are both very pleased with the beginning success of the molding of our dreams.
Chris has been cooking his entire life, from childhood to teenage jobs working fast food to a chef for fine dining restaurant. He has always dreamed of having his own garden to supply the ingredients for his recipes while also reaching toward a goal of self sufficient living. With the garden in full swing he is getting closer to the dream every day.
My dream has been to make a living working as an artist since I was a kid, I would sign up for art camps and classes trough the summer, and every club and class I was able to through the school year. After high school I continued on through college to receive classic training resulting in a Bachelors of Fine Arts sub majoring in Painting and Drawing while also receiving a minor in Art History. It has taken many years and many failures but finally the income I bring to the house is through my artwork now. It wasn't easy but it was worth it.
Now that we have our farm and booth at the market is exciting to watch the paths we have both created meet to create a successful business for our family. We are off to a slow start and have a lot of trials along the way that could have easily swayed us to give up and move on, but we know this is the path are meant to pursue and the future holds a spot for Crooked Coop Farm.

The garden has really taught us a thing or two about what it means to be an organic farmer... the weeds... oh my the weeds. There is no rest when you have a garden that needs attention, and we have learned this the hard way more than once. We definitely underestimated the amount of attention that needs to be given to the garden just for weeding. Our weeds became overgrown and took over every plant we had within a short amount of time. We thought he effort between us would solve the problem but quickly learned that the effort needed to be multiplied. It took about a week and about 30 hours of weeding to get our garden looking as great as it does now. I now know that at least one of us need to give the garden about 3 hours of weeding and harvesting attention each day 7 days a week. A bonus to that amount of work is that is doubles as our cardio and exercise so we are really getting in great shape now.
This is our first harvest for market this year all certified organic. The large green squash  on top is an Anna Swartz Hubbard that Chris decided to grow because the squash and I both share a name :) below it we have purple potted pole beans that will turn green when they are cooked. We have white acorn squash called the Thelma Sanders that has the most delicious sweet flavor that I swear is better than candy. We also brought along two types of potatoes, the Desire red potato and the French fingerling... we sold out of almost everything!

Here are both of the potatoes drying in the sun after they were freshly washed.

When you buy produce from us this is where your food comes from. We were able to get some of our fall crops planted once the weeds were clear. This week we planted beets, kale and a variety of lettuce that will be ready for market before the season is over.

Our next market will be this Saturday and this week we will be introducing new products to our table, the yellow Kellogg breakfast tomato and the Black Seaman tomato, both organic and both delicious. Until now we have never grown these colors of tomato so it will be exciting to see the feedback we receive at the market.

The last to update our homestead is our new fuzzy critters 5 Muscovy ducklings. We already have 3 but they are so nice to raise we wanted to get a couple more so they joined the broader coop with a few hens we are raising to increase our egg production.
Our summer has been productive and quite the hard work after the struggles we went through this past spring. It is wonderful to see the dream develop and exciting to see what the future has for our farm.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Backyard Summer Salad

We are getting quite the harvest from our backyard these days our greens have come up as well as some early season sweet peas and mulberries from our tree.  One of my favorite dinners to make during the growing season is backyard salads using what we have available, with these few ingredients I was able to do just that. I chopped up the lettuce, added some whole sweet peas and topped it with the mulberries. Since we raise our own poultry I was able to add one of our backyard chickens that had been previously cooked in the slow cooker and diced. The majority of the salad came straight from our yard I only added a few extras that we didn't produce some bacon, mozzarella and croutons. I topped the salad with a 25 year balsamic vinaigrette and it was the perfect backyard summer dinner. 

It is dinners like these that remind me of the great satisfaction from the hard work of homesteading.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Farm Sale!

To kick off the holiday we are holding our 1st Annual Fourth of July Farm Sale! All of my rustic flags and patriotic wall hangings are 20%off today through July 4th, 2015! Each piece pictured has been made from a fallen cedar fence that I took apart, cut and pieced back together before painting, sanding and sealing. I also make them from found pallets it just depends on what piece of material I can get my hands on. Each piece is sealed with an outdoor UV protected sealer making them appropriate to be hung outside during the spring, summer and fall.... winter use is up to you I can't guarantee how they will hold up to the snow. They look just as great indoors as they do hanging on a shed, barn or deck!

I've added a new flag to my collection a single pallet patriotic wall hanging on sale this week for $12.

And since I like deals and groups if you purchase more than one single they are on sale for $10 each.

My smallest flag measures about 13 x 18 inches on sale today for $28.

The next size up measures approximately 20 x 30 inches on sale for $52.

And my largest and most popular size is 35 x 28 inches on sale this week for $72.

All of these are available for purchase either in person, at this weeks Farmer's market or in my Etsy shop HERE. Please contact me with any questions... custom sizes are available made to order for a bit more.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A $1.39 Upgrade for your Office

I love to find ways to decorate the house for cheap. We have 3 kids 6 and under so right now my decorating budget isn't exactly overflowing which means if I want an update I need to get creative. Although it isn't as easy as buying new it is a lot more fun, and a lot more unique. Our decorating style is rustic, artsy cottage-like...eclectic I guess so my crafty decorating ideas often fit right in. 

To update the look of my office are and give it a bit more space I only needed to spend $1.39! All I had to buy were two inexpensive brackets from a home improvement store and I was able to change the whole look. 

Aside from the computer everything pictured here was either thrifted, found or given to us. Even the table I turned into a desk was someone else's garbage that I was able to get my hands on! With a new coat of paint and stain the piece looks brand new. All I did to get everything thrown together was to add 2 of my cheap brackets to a old board I found in the basement to make a shelf that displays our treasures. We like he rustic look so metal brackets on a worn out board is right up our alley! It may not be everyone's cup of tea but it works great for us and in my opinion it accents the found antlers and turkey feathers perfectly.

Money should never be a reason not to update. All you need is a little creativity and imagination to turn any area of your house into the perfect spot for you!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Cast Iron Cooking Southwest Style

I am learning how great cast iron cooking is. Until recently I never really thought about cast iron, but my husband bought a skillet so I guess I should know how to use it right? What is so nice about cast Iron is cooking and baking in the same dish...perfect for melting cheese on this southwestern skillet.... my first cast iron experience.

I just winged it but the dish turned out pretty good so I thought I would share....


  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 lbs ground beef
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp lemon peel
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 tsp chili pepper
  • 1 diced bell pepper
  • 2 cups rotini
  • 1 can corn drained
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar
  • diced green onion for garnish

What I did:
  • I heated up my skillet and added the coconut oil. Once the oil was warmed and covered the cast iron I added my garlic and onion heating until they both became transparent. 
  • Next  I added the ground beef and cooked it thoroughly seasoning as I went.
  • After the beef was browned I added my pepper, diced tomato, corn, pasta and water and brought the mixture to a boil.
  • When the pasta was ready and much of the water was reduced I covered the dish with my cheese and put it in a 400 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
Easy enough hey? I let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving then garnished it with the green onion, and served it with a dollop of sour cream.

The best part of the dish aside from being easy was I thought it was tasty too, and so did my 4 and 6 year old boys who gobbled it up with no fuss. My 11 month old baby even loved it...success in my book!


Friday, June 5, 2015

Sweet Chocolate Covered

I love homemade gifts and party favors. Whenever I have people at the homestead or am invited out I like to offer something simple and thoughtful to share. Since every tooth I have is a sweet one I especially love it when this something simple and thoughtful is something sweet as well. So these chocolate covered berries are the perfect balance in my opinion. 

I have noticed when giving homemade gifts people always seem to feel special and cared about. I feel that taking the time to make gifts rather than buy them is worth the extra effort just for that reason alone. When I don't have a lot of time to make a gift but still want to make something special I'll make chocolate covered things... in this case berries.

Making them was a fairly easy process...

First I chose a variety of berries washed and thoroughly dried them, next I melted on package of chocolate chips in the microwave following the instructions on the bag. Once the chocolate was creamy and smooth I dipped my berries in and let them harden on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. For the smaller berries I used a toothpick to pick them up and dip them. After all the berries were dipped I chilled them for about an hour before I packaged them up.

I thought it would be a cute idea to serve these in their own personal dishes so I found little white bowls. I wanted to find something lightly colored and  simple so the design wouldn't clash with the colorful berries.  Using a white bowl with the red and blue berries also makes this a fun patriotic party favor for fourth of July cook outs this summer. 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Grandma's Rhubarb Custard Pie

I mentioned in my last post that I lost a lot of the content on our blog unfortunately I lost a lot of the recipes with that. I was able to salvage a few of the posts but for the most part I will have to start new again. What better way to start new recipe sharing than with a recipe that has been passed down through generations. I think there is a lot of nostalgia that goes along with sharing recipes... thinking about the loved ones who prepared the meal, sitting down with people you love passing the dish around the table and of course remembering the dishes themselves that help serve these wonderful meals. Memories and recipes fit together like a scrapbook. 

The recipe I want to share was passed down from my husband's great grandmother. It was a favorite of his and now that she is gone it is a wonderful way to remember her. Every time I make this pie for him it takes him back to different points in his childhood spending time with his grandmother in northern Wisconsin. 

This is a good one now that it is rhubarb season and it's really easy to make.

Grandma's Rhubarb Custard Pie 

  • 1 deep dish crust...either homemade or store bought depending on what works for you
  • 3 cups cut rhubarb (cut in 1 inch pieces)
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Combine the eggs, milk, flour, salt, sugar, nutmeg, and mix it with the rhubarb
  • pour the mixture in your pie crust
  • dot with butter
  • place in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 50-60 min.



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