71,238. Seventy-one thousand, two-hundred and thirty-eight. Such a random number that is stuck in my mind, nearly a week after hearing a story on NPR. Do you know what 71,238 represents? Neither did I.
In Japan, where life-expectancy is a longer than here in the United States, there are 71,238 centenarians. Japan actually has the highest life-expectancy of any major country, according to NBC news. Despite chronic stress levels and a chaotic lifestyle for many of the country’s inhabitants, people in Japan live longer. They thrive longer. In fact, Okinawa, Japan is one of the Blue Zones; a term coined by Dan Buettner, the Blue Zones are hotspots around the world with a disproportionately high number of people living well into their 100s. Dan and his team have studied these populations, trying to determine the secret for a long life. I’ve known about the Blue Zones and Dan’s work for many years now, but after hearing the 71,238 on NPR, I started thinking about these people more.
Wellness and overall longevity involve more than diet and exercise. Surely, there’s genetics; some of us are born “lucky” with “good genes” and a family history of long disease-free lives. But when it comes to the Blue Zones, the role of community, connection, and spirituality are key factors. People who are living in strongly-knit communities, with commonalities and connection, live longer. Interpersonal interactions - living in harmony with people beyond yourself and your immediate family - is a strengthening force for longevity. Being part of a spiritual community, finding a higher purpose, carrying-on traditions from generation to generation are factors that increase the length of a meaningful life. And that’s where today’s recipe comes into play.
The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, is coming-up quickly. This High Holiday will be celebrated beginning next Sunday, September 29th, at sundown. Jewish people all over the world will be welcoming the year 5780 by reciting special prayers and eating festive meals. There are foods which are commonplace in the celebration of Rosh Hashanah: round challah, apples & honey, and other sweet foods for a “sweet new year”. I grew-up in a home that commemorated the holiday with a few recipes that were only prepared for the holiday, not at other points of the year. To me, these foods become even more special, more “holy”, as they were only served once a year. Imagine if the you only ate turkey on Thanksgiving day. For the other 364 days of the year, you didn’t eat any turkey. If this were so, you’d view that turkey as a symbol of Thanksgiving, a reason to look forward to that one day of the year. That’s exactly how I felt about these few recipes that my grandma and mom prepared for Rosh Hashanah; there was just one chance each year to enjoy these particular recipes around our family’s table.
Noodle Kugel was a Rosh Hashanah recipe in my home. Sure, my mom was capable of making this sweet noodle casserole any day of the year, but the fact that it only appeared on our holiday table in the Fall made it that much more special. My family Noodle Kugel recipe reminds me of growing-up; it links me to my grandma - as it was her recipe passed down to my mom, and now passed down to me. Over the years, I’ve made changes to the original recipe, but it has kept its integrity and its true flavors. I might argue that my version is better than my grandma’s, but I’m not willing to start a family feud!
Making Noodle Kugel for my family for our Rosh Hashanah dinner is a tradition that links us to our past, to our community, to our spirituality. It strengthens those bonds that provide a meaningful life and purpose to each and every day. Food has a way of serving as more than just sustenance and nourishment. Food is a connector to our past, to our memories, to those we love who are no longer with us. Food also connects us to those around our table, those we share a meal with. This recipe happens to be dairy-free and have a gluten-free option, so it is a comforting food for almost everyone.
Whether or not you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah next week, take a moment to think about the foods which serve as a bridge to your past, to your community, to your heritage. Strengthening those bonds may have more effects than you can know in any given moment. And while there is only one Blue Zone in the United States (Loma Linda, CA), we can all wish for a longer, happier and more vibrant life, wherever we live.
Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.
Harvest Apple Noodle Kugel
Ingredients: (note - use organic whenever possible)
16oz egg noodles (gluten-free, if needed - I use Jovial brand)
1 (8oz) jar apricot preserves (fruit only - no sugar added)
1/4 C coconut oil + additional for greasing pan
1/4 C maple syrup
6 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 t cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1 C raisins
4 apples, peeled & cut into large chunks
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add some sea salt and the noodles. Cook the noodles according to package directions, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse with cold water. Shake to remove all excess water and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13” glass or ceramic baking pan with coconut oil and set aside.
In a small pan, heat apricot preserves, coconut oil and maple syrup. Stir to combine. Let cool to room temperature.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Add the vanilla extract, cinnamon and sea salt - whisk to combine until light and fluffy. Once the apricot preserve mixture has cooled to room temperature, add that mixture to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the raisins and apple chunks, as well as the cooled noodles. Carefully toss the ingredients to fully coat the noodles with the liquid and disperse the raisins and apples.
Pour the noodle mixture into the prepared pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe yields 10-12 generous servings
Can be made in-advance. Bake for 50 minutes, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until the day of serving. Bring kugel back to room temperature and bake for 30-40 minutes, uncovered, before serving
Leftovers keep well, chilled, for 3-4 days in a covered container