by Arthur Gordon ’72
One would think that someone who has been chef and owner at a restaurant for 40 years must have grown up with steam on the kitchen windows from stews bubbling, roasts baking and blackberry pies cooling on the window sills.
The reality was when my parents first got married, my mom said to my dad, “I’m going to be good in one room, and you pick it!” Dad didn’t pick the kitchen — so I learned to cook.
My father’s mother, Lena, came from Russia to Brooklyn when she was a young woman. She never learned to read or write in English, only how to speak colloquially. Grandma often said “irregardless,” and I would tell her it wasn’t a word. She would reply: “Do you understand what I just said?” Of course I did. So she kept using it.
I grew up in Durham and, fortunately for us, Grandma Lena would come to visit twice a year. She would stay for six weeks and cook daily, filling our freezer with tasty morsels such as cheese blintz, brisket and soups. It would take us about six months to eat out the freezer. Then we’d invite her back to visit.
So really, I learned to cook from Grandma Lena, and her cheese blintz recipe is still on the cafe’s weekend brunch menu.
In the Jewish tradition, there is a belief that there are many levels of soul. There is the finite soul in our body and the infinite soul that is directly connected to the Creator. The way we live our lives determines where we will enter the ladder between the finite here on Earth and the infinite. Once we are in the next world, the only way we move closer to the divine is to have folks in this world say our name as a blessing.
So every time you say “Irregardless,” Grandma Lena moves up one rung. And after 40 years, she is definitely in with the Creator.
Forty years ago, Arthur Gordon ’72 founded The Irregardless Cafe in Raleigh, introducing concepts — such as green and sustainable — that much later would become buzzwords. The cafe opened as the community’s first vegetarian restaurant; it now also offers beef, lamb, seafood, poultry and duck dishes along with local produce. Gordon’s restaurant went nonsmoking in 1985, 25 years before state law was enacted banning smoking in restaurants. Over the years, the cafe has added a catering division, installed solar thermal panels to heat its water and purchased a 1.5-acre urban garden, now known as the Well Fed Community Garden. For more, go to www.irregardless.com.
Makes 8 to 12 blintzes
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup milk teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon oil
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup ricotta cheese
Rind of half an orange, grated
Rind of half a lemon, grated
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon cardamom
Dash of nutmeg