I started reading Tod Goldberg‘s entertaining blog a few years ago. Later we both contributed to When I Was a Loser, an essay anthology now banned in one Rhode Island high school. (Goldberg’s contribution begins like this: “If the truth be known, I would have preferred not meeting Zsa Zsa Gabor at all versus meeting her while covered in the pubic hair of my sisteen-year-old girlfriend.”) He’s also the author of two novels and a short story collection.
I’d planned to post his Nana’s recipe in late December, right around the time my site went belly-up. That’s okay, Goldberg told me, “kugel keeps.”
Intellectually, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure I did realize that. When I looked at the recipe and actually saw it, well, it felt… wrong. Sordid. Ugly. But right there was the truth: Mix instant chocolate pudding in a bowl with Cool Whip, add to pie shell, top with Cool Whip and cool for two hours. (Now, to be fair, there was a recipe for a pie crust in the book, but in later years Nana just used Mrs. SmithÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.) I flipped through her recipes and found that these favorites of mine were typically not all that extravagant — meat, vegetables, a pie crust and… voila!
When I finally got to the page with the kugel recipe — which Wendy had decried as Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just wrong. Who eats sweet noddles? Blech!Ã¢â‚¬Â — the experience was far different. It was like looking at the hand of God.
Every time IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d felt blue in my life, Nana made me a kugel. Every time something good happened in my life, Nana made me a kugel. Every time I visited unexpectedly when we lived in the same city, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d pull a kugel out of the freezer and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d eat a few slices. And now here it was!
I immediately ran to the store and picked out the ingredients, came home, made it and… it sucked. It was awful. It tasted starchy and dry and without much flavor. Could NanaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s love really be what made it taste so good? I called my older sister Linda to lament.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you know that all of the recipes in NanaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cookbook are just slightly wrong?Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The measurements are off or thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a missing ingredient in all of them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why would she do that?Ã¢â‚¬Â I said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh, probably so when you make her recipes they wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t taste as good as when she makes them herself,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worry, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve backwards engineered them all.Ã¢â‚¬Â Linda then proceeded to give me the correct recipe for the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s greatest lochshen kugel. I went out and bought all the ingredients again and made another kugel and it was like Nana was sitting in my kitchen with me. Or, well, the nice, sweet Nana IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d always known, not the evil one whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d screwed with her own cookbook just so her grandchildren wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be able to make her recipes as well as she did. (ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no telling how much mayo youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re really supposed to baste the chicken withÃ¢â‚¬Â¦)
Nana died a few weeks ago at the age of 95 and in her honor I came home from the funeral and made myself a kugel. It tasted like being seven and losing a soccer game; like being twelve and dining as the sun set over Loon Lake, Washington; like being thirty and sitting on her porch in Seattle; like being all the ages IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve ever been. HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how you do it.
1 12oz package wide egg noodles
1 cup of sugar
1 grated apple (I prefer a Macintosh, though really any good red apple will work.)
1 handful of raisins (about a half cup)
1 to 2 tablespoons of cinnamon (I like to use a lot of cinnamon, so I go for 2 tablespoons, though my mother uses 1 and my sister uses 3Ã¢â‚¬Â¦)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Pre-heat your oven to 375
Boil the noodles until they are done. Drain the noodles, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until all mixed. Pour into a greased metal pan. This is important: donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t use a glass pan. For some reason, cooking this in a glass pan makes it burn more easily and taste not as good. Through extensive trial and error, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve learned that a really cheap 9 X 11 pan is the way to go here.
Bake for between 45 minutes and an hour. For a crisp top layer, an hour should be perfect. If you prefer it a little less crisp, watch the cooking from about 45 minutes on to check for browning. Let it cool before cutting into squares.