Thursday, December 30, 2010

Getting Started with Sustainability in 2011

Amazingly, it has been a year since I started this blog; hopefully, you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.  We will certainly be continuing our journey into sustainable living in 2011, but I thought it may be useful as the last post of the year to do something that is part retrospective and part overview.

If your New Year's resolution is to live more sustainably, you may wonder where to start.  For me, I think the best place is with ideas that fix a problem you currently have, minimize something you don't like to do, or maximize something you do enjoy. 

For example, I have frequently explained that the gas bill around here drives me batty.  Somehow, it just becomes the ultimate in paying for something that I've already used up by the time the bill comes -- yeah, I was warm one day a month ago when the heat was running full blast, but now the bill is here and I hate to pay it.  So, the ideal way for me to make changes in how sustainably I lived was projects that kept my house and me warm without running up a monster gas bill. 

So, if you are just starting out, here are some common goals and feelings you may have, along with some ideas to improve your life by living sustainably:

I hate paying the heat bill, but I hate being cold.
I have an expensive food treat that I want to use to its best advantage.
  • Feature an artisinal cheese this way in summer or winter.
  • Feature a special meat next to piles of veggies.
  • Stretch the expensive food.
I want to explore herbal remedies.
I hate buying cleaning products.
I hate buying personal care products.
I want to start preserving food.
I want to lower my food bill.
I want to boost my sustainable cred with some resource-friendly projects.

(Note:  This is not an exhaustive 2010 index, but I did try to include the posts that attracted the most discussion here, on my Facebook page under Hilltop Communications, or in person.)

Happy New Year!  Let's make 2011 even more sustainable!
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I made dinner for $1.09.

Monday night, I made dinner for $1.09.  I was incredibly proud of myself, and I think this little triumph illustrates a couple of principles about how I live sustainably.

First, the details:  This is really the winter version of this recipe, which has consistently been one of the favorites among blog readers.  This time, I used pesto frozen in September and sundried (actually, dehydrator-dried, but "sundried" sounds better) tomatoes.  I also used a lovely block of artisinal asiago cheese that was part of a holiday basket sent to me by a client (thanks, guys -- you know who you are!).  Therefore, total cost to me was $1.09 for a box of Meijer pasta, which I thought was highway robbery (I stock up at 79 cents per box) but which got much better once I had made my el-cheapo meal.  I've gotten 5-6 servings out of this; if you are doing the math, we are hovering around 20 cents a serving.

My sustainability lessons?

First, the practical one:  If you have a recipe that works for you in the summer, do everything in your power to find a winter version.  Would I have preferred to make this with fresh basil and fresh tomatoes, standing barefoot in my kitchen with the still-warm veggies in a basket by my elbow?  Absolutely.  But I know that the combination works, so I dried as many tomatoes as I could, and I made pesto like it was going out of style.  It tastes almost as good when I make it while I have a fire going and a nice pair of fleece socks on my feet.

Second, the philosophical lesson:  There is no room for absolutes in the sustainability movement.  The sustainability movement is gaining ground in this country, but still it seems that the most interesting media coverage is of people who have taken a locavore pledge that prohibits food from a distance.  One of my favorite books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, examines a year without non-local food, and many others have taken a pledge that if the food comes from more than 100 miles (or 50, or 200) away, they won't eat it.  I try to do likewise as much as possible.  Certainly, I prefer food that is hyper-local; that is, I think the best food is that which you walk into the backyard to obtain.

However, we do have a transportation network in this country, and I have no problem with using it to transport the occasional treat, like artisinal cheeses from Amish Country or maple candy from Vermont or citrus from  Florida.  The key concept there is "treat" -- the occasional box of something that is specific to a certain part of the country, sent by mail or FedEx, or tucked into luggage.  A little taste of somewhere else that punctuates a diet that is overwhelmingly local.  A small nugget of something specific to its own locale that is so precious by its unfamiliarity that you stop and taste and discuss.  Something different that throws your own local efforts into relief so that you appreciate every element anew.

We appreciated this meal that highlighted a gift not just for its budget-saving properties (perhaps least because of that), but because it was a rare treat that we savored.  If  I found a stack of this same cheese sitting heaped up at my local Wal-Mart, having been trucked from its origin to a distribution center to my local store, I would not appreciate it as much.  If I bought it every week, I would miss out not only on its specialness but on the joys of making my own ricotta and patronizing local cheese makers.  For something this good to become ordinary would be a crime -- and it would be unsustainable.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Student's Ragout AKA Stewed Students

One of the best ways to save money when cooking at home is to look for what I call "peasant meals."  If you can find recipes that were made by poor but busy people, you ae almost guaranteed a yummy and cheap meal.  A good clue to whether your recipe is a "peasant meal" is if it takes a cheap cut of meat and simmers it for a long time to make it tender.

This is the case with Student's Ragout, which I believe I found in Mother Earth News a year or so ago; unfortunately, I cut the source citation off the top of the recipe, and I can't find it on the web site.  (So at least I tried for proper attribution here.)  It is an easy and filling recipe that tenderizes a tough cut of meat and creates tons of leftovers. 

The recipe supposedly was created by French (I believe) students who needed a cheap, easy, and flexible meal they could make for themselves on a budget.  Given my work in higher education, it is only natural that the name of this dish immediately morphed into "stewed students" around here in tribute to the students who do such a good job of keeping me on my toes.

2-4 slices bacon  (I like to splurge on Trader Joe's Applewood Smoked Bacon)
1 pound round steak, flank steak, or cube steak cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion
4-8 medium potatoes
2-3 carrots
1 clove garlic (optional)
sage, salt, and pepper to taste

Some recipes call for cooking the bacon first; often, we just layer it in the bottom of the pan, then add layers of meat, potatoes, carrots, and onion.  (Layer in order of tenderness of the ingredient.)  Add garlic, sage, and salt and pepper, then cover with water until just about level with the tops of the potatoes.  Cover and cook on medium until meat is cooked and veggies are tender, about 45 minutes.  (If you feel like things are burning rather than simmering, you may need to add water as you go.)  Don't mix the ingredients until they are done.  You see it above, served with some green veggies from the sunroom (yes, we still have lettuce growing in December this year!).

Makes 4-5 servings.

This is a great SOLE recipe for (not so) Urban Hennery, because we were able to use meat from our freezer (locally sourced, no hormones), the last of the cellared potatoes and onions and the last frozen carrots, and our own garlic and sage.  (I cooked this with the last onion, although the holidays have gotten my posts out of order a bit, so I have already written about switching to store onions.)  Really, the only thing that was not local was the bacon, and it was more sustainably produced that most store bacon.  If ever there was an excuse for loading up the freezer and the cellar during the fall, it is this recipe.

Nearly-vegetarian option:  This recipe works just fine without the steak, leaving you with bacon and veggies.  In fact, I sometimes do one pot of meaty ragout for hubby and one pot of low-meat ragout for me, which means we have leftovers for nearly a week!

The Analysis

Fast:  This is moderately time-intensive, as you do have to chop all the ingredients and then let it simmer.  But it sure isn't difficult work.

Cheap:  Cheap is the point of this one.  Load up on root veggies from your garden or farmer's market and some inexpensive cuts of meat, and your only financial splurge will be the bacon.

Good:  It is a balanced, filling, sustainable meal, which is welcome on a cold day.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sustainable Steak and Eggs

It is three days until Christmas, ten days until New Years, and five weeks until I can plant the first pepper seeds.  However you count it, in the Midwest it is time to hunker down and face some cold weather.  So, I thought the next few recipes would all be "snow shoveling" recipes -- things that are hearty and warm and rib-sticking. 

Today's meal idea is courtesy of Mr. FC&G (also known as my husband), and it is this week's SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, and ethical) recipe for (not so) Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge.  It is also quite frugal, which makes it a winner all around.  I speak, of course, of steak and eggs.

"Wait," you say.  "How is this pile of protein frugal, let alone sustainable?  Has the weather gotten to you already?"  (Indulge me, readers; I sometimes have conversations with you.  You are very witty, and you always ask just the right questions.)

In this case, sustainability and frugality are all about sourcing ingredients from the right places.  Think for a minute about summer.  You can buy organic produce from the big box retailers, and if that is your only option, I hope you are doing so.  But that produce is often fairly expensive and typically comes from far away.  Contrast this with the most local produce, that which you grow yourselves.  As you may remember, I spent last summer putting together plates of veggies with just a touch of artisinal cheese or meat and having lunch for under $1.  In many cases, local means frugal and sustainable.

The same is true for steak and eggs, lovingly prepared by Mr. FC&G.  The eggs we get from a local farmer at Bluestone Farm (sorry no web link).  At $1.50 a dozen for these orange-yolked beauties, hubby fried up three for just 39 cents.

Beside that sits a piece of sirloin tip steak that we also sourced locally by buying a quarter of a beef back in 2007; that was pretty much the last piece of that meat, so you can see that we don't go through it very quickly and we get the most out of every piece.  We bought that particular load of meat before I started blogging (and before I started putting little sticky notes with prices on everything), but I remember it being around $4-5 a pound.  Now, we get our meat from a local butcher who processes only hormone-free, sustainably raised meats (Landes Fresh Meats) for perhaps a little more per pound.  Regardless, this little bit of leftover steak surely came in at under $2.  Total meal cost for hubby:  under $2.50 and probably under $2.

Now, this plate of protein is not for everyone; in fact, if you are vegetarian (or mostly, like me) or vegan, you are probably thinking this is a pretty unappetizing idea.  But for the carnivores among us, it demonstrates an important point:  even a meal that has a reputation for being expensive can be had on the cheap and virtually guilt-free if you take some time to support your local merchants and farmers. 

The Analysis

Fast:  I'm pretty sure that Mr. FC&G cooked up his breakfast-as-dinner in under 15 mintues from leftover steak and farm-fresh eggs.

Cheap:  As I said above, certainly under $2.50 for this plate; what would you pay even in a greasy-spoon diner?  Would the quality be as good?

Good:  I can't vouch for this one, but Mr. FC&G seemed to be fortified enough to go run the snow blower after dinner.  Works for me!
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Hand Warmers

Welcome to my final installment of Do Something Sustainable for the Holidays!

If you celebrate Christmas, you have less than a week to put your gifts and treats together, and today's idea is a familiar concept in stocking-stuffer size:  hand warmers.

These little gems are a small-sized version of bed warmers, just for your pockets.  I took two 4.5 inch squares of fleece per hand warmer, sewed them up like a pillow, then filled with rice and spice (a rhyme, no less!).  These I filled with rice and sage, which made my pockets smell a bit like Thanksgiving stuffing; as I've mentioned before, lavender and cinnamon/cloves are also nice additions.

Microwave these for a minute and slide them in your coat pockets for a little bit of warmth while you are out in the cold.  I actually wound up walking to my destination one 20 degree day last week, and my hands remained toasty on the entire trip thanks to these little guys.  That's why I wanted to recommend them to you as a last-minute sustainable gift!

The Analysis

Fast:  I sewed and filled this pair in about 20 minutes.  Since they were for me, I seemed the top with the machine; if you are giving them as a gift, you may want to hand sew the top with blind stitch, which will take a little longer.

Cheap:  Fleece from the remnant bin, homegrown sage, and bulk rice -- these are literally pennies a piece.

Good:  Warm hands made a mile and a half walk pleasant in cold weather.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Sustainable Bookshelf: Holiday Gift Edition

As part of my series Do Something Sustainable for the Holidays, I thought I would present you with a roundup of my favorite sustainability books.  These are some of the ones that I want in hard copy on my shelf just in case I'm ever without the ability to use the internet or an e-reader, although you certainly could buy an e-reader version or check them out from the library if you are wanting to be even more frugal.  However, I think any one of them, in hard copy, could make a great gift for the sustainably-minded on your list.

Mini-Farming:  Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre is my new gift for myself.  It covers the basics of space-conscious gardening, seed saving, preserving, and raising chickens for meat and eggs.  While it is not an exhaustive resource for a beginner, it does serve as a kind of catalog of what can be done in a very small space, allowing the reader to choose the projects he or she wishes to attempt.  It also makes a subtle but compelling case that those of us on suburban lots could sustain ourselves by our own efforts if the need arose.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is the classic of the modern sustainability movement, and it presents a highly-readable and in-depth argument against the modern food establishment and toward a greater connection with what we eat.  In spite of the indictments against some of our society's agricultural misdeeds, it emerges as an optimistic account of the things we can do to live more sustainably and reap more enjoyment in the process.  This is a winter must-read, if only because it will have you reading the seed catalogs and dreaming of your spring efforts.

Speaking of things that have you jonesing for spring, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle remains one of my favorite books.  In fact, it spends whole weeks sitting on the ottoman where I can reach it and read the bits associated with either my current season or the season I wish I were in.  The book is organized into months and accounts a year in the Kingsolver family's life as they attempt to live nearly solely off the products of their own land and community.  However, unlike some of the "stunt journalism" that sets a writer up to live sustainably with very little experience or knowledge, these folks aren't kidding:  they've farmed for years.  Therefore, there is very little angst and a lot of joy described here. 

Think you can't sew?  If you have a sewing machine and can run a fairly straight stitch, you can do most of the projects in this book.  Projects range from the simple (like napkins and pillowcases) to the slightly-more-intermediate (wrap skirts and PJ pants).  Patterns are included.  I love this book for the inspiration it gives me for projects to try with a yard or two of remnant fabric and a couple of hours, tops.

Stitch 'n Bitch taught me to knit, plain and simple.  After years of trying to knit using the kinds of books you get in the yarn store -- and failing miserably -- this book had me knitting in a couple of nights.  This would be a great gift wrapped with some nice knitting needles (bamboo is sustainable) and some organic cotton yarn.

I learned to crochet from my mom, so I have been doing that for years.  Therefore, I can't vouch as personally for Stoller's ability to teach crochet.  However, what I can tell you is that, with all due respect to those who favor the hook or the sticks, some things you knit and some things you crochet.  Some yarns look prettier knitted, some look better crocheted.  Sometimes you want the texture created by one, sometimes the other.  Learn both.

I hope this helps your holiday shopping! 
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Veggie Pizza

For me, winter is the busy time of year.  I'm working both jobs (writer and college administrator), and both are busy.  For whatever reason, December through February is just the prime money-making months in my writing biz, and they coincide with the second quarter of college, during which I not only have administrative duties but I also teach two classes.  It makes me yearn for the easiness of summer, when both jobs are at their low and I spend some time every day in the garden.

However, while making hay while the sun isn't shining, I need some easy meals.  Like most of us, I fall back on pizza.  But pizza doesn't have to be fatty, non-local, expensive, or delivered.  My go-to is the veggie pizza, and it is also my attempt at (not so) Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge (cooking SOLE:  sustainable, organic, local, ethical).

The crust is something I'm pretty proud of.  Yes, I start with a 37 cent Jiffy mix (not organic, but no HFCS), but I add a half a cup of flax seed meal to boost the omega-3 content and give it some body.  It really is yummy.

For sauce, I use the Meijer Naturals brand, which does incorporate some organic ingredients (specifically sugar, which is a good one if you are only going to pick one organic ingredient) plus has no HFCS and no GMOs.  I have to buy sauce this year because the garden tomatoes did so badly, but I think this is a responsible choice.

Toppings:  onions, sun dried tomatoes from the garden, sometimes peppers frozen from the garden, and Trader Joe's quattro frommagio cheese from cows that receive no growth hormones.  The only thing here I feel really guilty about is the onion:  I bought several farmer's market onions this summer and cellared them, but "some" is not really a great plan with the number we eat.  It is only December, and I have already weakened into buying store onions.  Next year, more onions, regardless of cost!

The Analysis

Fast:  If you keep your ingredients on hand, you really can have a pizza ready in the time it would take to wait for delivery.

Cheap:  The cheese is the expensive part, but I don't want to eat growth hormones if I can help it.  Nonetheless, the dependence on garden veggies instead of meat keeps this pizza under $6, and it is much better for you than any you could order.

Good:  I have come to think of pizza as a way to get veggies in my diet.  Get the base crust down in your repertoire, and you are ready to pile it high with veggies and have a quick meal any time.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Feverfew Chronicles, Continued

Earlier in the year, I told you about feverfew, and how it helped my regular headaches.  I thought that those of you pondering growing this herb would like an update.

I tried to dry the herb all summer because I knew I would need a supply when the plants were not productive, and I wanted to be prepared.  My research suggested that the herb would stay effective even when dried.

As the weather cooled, I noticed the fresh leaf of the herb was growing less effective for me; in the meantime, I was skipping "doses" because it would be cold or rainy and I didn't want to slog into the yard to get some.  My headaches came back, although not quite as frequent as before.

To combat this, I brought some clippings into the house and put them in a jar of water in the fridge, as you do with any herb you want to use fresh for several days.  I didn't notice those leaves being very effective, but I did notice the stems start to look like they were wanting to root.  I took the jar out of the fridge and let them do so for a few days, then planted them in fresh compost.

Voila!  Just about a month later, I have new feverfew shoots coming up out of this plant.  I have been nibbling around the edges of the older growth, and it tastes fresh and bright.  (As much as feverfew can--it still tastes like medicine.  I tell DH that it tastes like not having a headache.  And fresh certainly tastes better than the dried stuff.)

The best part is, this new growth is oh-so-effective.  I'm back to having a headache maybe one day a week, when my norm without it is more like 5-6 days.  Happy, happy!

Also, just as I suggested to you back in the original post, I told my doctor about it.  He had not heard of feverfew, but he asked some really good questions and made a note to investigate it.  He was fully supportive of my using the herb.

The Analysis

Fast:  I don't know quite how to assess on this dimension, but eating some feverfew is certainly as quick as popping an OTC pill.

Cheap:  Once again, I didn't start this project with the idea of monetary savings, although they are certainly possible if they keep me from buying ibuprofen at the rate I once was.  (Seriously, I've purchased one bottle since spring.  That is really unusual in this household.) 

Good:  The true cost I am avoiding is wear and tear on my body from pharmaceuticals.  This article from  Mother Earth News puts it best:

"Rather than herbs being too weak, many drugs are too strong, causing side effects ranging from annoying to insufferable. Do no harm is the first axiom of medicine. This means that treatment should begin at the lowest possible effective dose. Why use a bulldozer if a broom suffices? Herbs should be prescribed first. Only those who truly need stronger medicine should use drugs, which cost more and have a greater risk of side effects. Unfortunately, American medicine does the opposite. Doctors prescribe drugs first, and only when the drugs are intolerable do some doctors suggest herbs. We don’t need medicine that’s stronger. We need medicine that’s smarter. For many common ills, herbs are cheaper and smarter."
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fleece Patchwork (Un)Quilt

2015 Update:  This has been one of our most popular articles to date and is certainly our most popular pin on Pinterest.  If you got here through a pin, welcome!  Please take a look at our book, which has this idea and others in a handy bound format for your use:  Fast, Cheap, and Good

In today's installment of Do Something Sustainable for the Holidays, I'm going to encourage you to make a quilt.

No, I haven't gone round the bend here.  I am in love with this fleece patchwork quilt pattern, which is really quick and easy because there is no actual quilting involved -- that is, there is no batting between the layers and no top stitching.  Therefore, it might best be called a fleece blanket, but I like the idea of calling it an (un)quilt.

You already know of my love for the remnant bin at my favorite fabric store, Joann Fabric and Crafts.  The prices there are amazing; bolt ends and miscuts are sold at whatever that day's sale is on the fabric, plus 50% off for remnants, plus whatever coupons you have.  I can regularly score a yard of fabric for around $2.

For this project, all you need are remnants in fleece patterns and colors you like, plus a cut of fleece for backing.  Follow these simple steps:

1.  Cut the patchwork fleece into squares.  I use a 4.5 inch square quilting template because I like the look of random patches of regularly-cut fabric.  But feel free to get more complex or to try patterns like 9-patch squares (my next attempt).  Just remember that the more complex your patchwork, the more time it takes.

2.  Sew your squares together.  For me, I sew 14 squares to get the width; this is about five feet in width.  I like this width for a fleece quilt because bolts of fleece come in 58-60 inch widths, so this will fit the backing without piecing two cuts of fleece together to make the back.  That is difficult and unwieldy.  Five feet wide also allows me to put the quilt on my side of the (king) bed without disturbing over-heated hubby.

3.  Sew your width strips together to make about six feet in length.  Again, six feet is two yards of fleece, which is an inexpensive backing.  Alternately, you could patch the back as well, but that would be more work. 

4.  For this quilt, I bought a piece of bluish grey fleece for the back that was two yards long and about 60 inches wide.  It cost (after sale and coupons) about $14.  Place the backing and the topper with right sides together and machine sew on three sides, like you are making a pillow case.  For the fourth side (which would be open on a pillow case, turn the edges in and sew both sides together.  You can do this on your machine (remember, that is four thicknesses of fabric, so you may want to change to a heavier needle) or by blind stitch (which I'm going to do on my next quilt).

Voila!  A soft, warm "quilt" that really relies on the warmth of air sandwiched in two layers of fleece instead of the normal cotton and batting sandwich.  If you are crafty, you could easily sew one of these up as a Christmas gift (a lap quilt also would be nice and take even less time), or you could start one to keep your own toes toasty in the bitter months to come.  (This is particularly nice if you are participating in The Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge.)

The Analysis

Fast:  In quilt-time, this one comes together in a jiffy.  Cut squares while you are watching TV at night, and then sew together in a few bursts of sewing.  I like to work on one of these while I'm writing, because it gives me a chance to turn away from the computer and think for a few minutes while I assemble a few squares.

Cheap:  I put my first fleece quilt together for the cost of $14 for two yards of backing fleece, plus whatever I spent on remnants.  With the remnant bin full (as it is right now with everyone using fleece to make gifts), you should be able to bring this project in under $30 with some smart shopping.

Good:  The fleece quilt is one of the (very) few things I actually like about winter.  It is so soft and warm, it follows me everywhere:  downstairs onto the couch during the day, and upstairs onto the bed at night.  I can't wait to finish another.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sage Noodle Soup

What is it about photographing soup that is so difficult?  Sometimes I contemplate having DH make a special bottom-lit soup bowl so you can see all the goodness in clear soups.

Anyway, I wasn't planning on posting this recipe until a couple of Facebook friends wanted a copy, and I realized it was a good one to share.  I also realized it was a good one to kick off (not so) Urban Hennery's Dark Days challenge.  This cool challenge asks us to commit to making one meal a week that is sustainable, organic, local, and ethical (SOLE) -- since sustainability is in the title of this blog, I expected it to be a snap!

However, it is hard to meet all these criteria.  For example, while I think cooking at home, making your own soup noodles, and using home-grown herbs to make a meal are all sustainable, I have to admit that I used packaged chicken broth.  This is probably a bad choice, because we all know how badly CAFO chickens are treated (that is, not typically ethically).  I have been trying to make more of my own stock, but right now I only have ham stock in the freezer (not what I wanted for this) and a box of chicken broth in the pantry begged to be used up (at least that is an ethical move -- not wasting food).  I have also had no luck finding local sources of any kind of flour or grain, let alone semolina, in spite of the fact that I'm willing (eager!  jonesing even!) to get a grain mill and grind my own.  (This is the kind of project that usually gets me in trouble.)

Anyway, I think it is a good first attempt, and I'll keep you posted on future endeavors; in the meantime, visit (not so) Urban Hennery at the link to the left.

Sage Noodle Soup

Sage Noodles:
1 cup regular flour
1 cup semolina flour
2 eggs  (local farm-raised with lovely orange yolks)
1 t. salt
sage to taste (I used about 1 T of the dried from the summer)
water to make thick paste

Turn out on floured board and kneed in the flour until no longer sticky.  See the basic method here. Roll with rolling pin until about 1/2 inch thick and cut into whatever size you like (although I like about an inch by an inch and a half for soup). Cook by boiling until they float in the rapidly boiling water. (I cook mine separately so the leftovers don't create bloated noodles by leaving them in the soup. This also keeps the starch that boils off the noodles out of the soup, so you have a clear soup.)

While this is going on, bring the following to a boil and then reduce to a simmer:

1 qt. chicken stock
1 onion, diced
1 pint frozen corn (that's what I had from the summer; it is good with carrots or peas too)
1 T. sage
1 T. marjoram (both spices dried from the garden; you can sub thyme or oregano for the marjoram if you like)
Optional--a few diced green chiles, for heat (about 1-2 T -- these were frozen from my garden)
salt and pepper

When corn is cooked and onions are translucent, place some of the noodles in each serving bowl and top with soup. Repeat as needed. (I usually double this recipe so I have leftovers. If you do, you only need to double the soup and not necessarily the noodles.)
The Analysis
Fast:  I made this batch of soup in under an hour, which is a long prep time for me but very enjoyable on a cold Sunday afternoon.  You can make the soup part in the crock pot if you prefer, which means that part can cook while you are at work.
Cheap:  By having an inexpensive local source of eggs and a lot of herbs and peppers at my disposal, this was not an expensive recipe.  (Full disclosure:  It was even cheaper because my mom gave me a few boxes of chicken broth she wasn't going to use by the expiration date.)  I think that making my own chicken stock in the future is a good next step to frugal soup.
Good:  The sage noodles really boost this soup from ordinary to special.  I am really working on natural healing endeavors right now, and there is a reason that chicken soup is called "Jewish Penicillin."  The onions, peppers, sage, and marjoram all have properties that will help out if you have a cold or flu. 
I think the next herb noodle project will be thyme noodles with fresh thyme (grown locally -- in my foyer!).  I can't wait to have some of those with some smoked cheddar on top!
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