We have a houseguest who comes from South Wales – that’s in the United Kingdom, about 150 miles West of London. Penny Lewis is a chef, but her realm does not include restaurants, catering halls, executive kitchens or food trucks. No – Penny is a self-described “Country House Cook.” What does that mean, you ask?
Think of Downton Abbey. That’s a stately home in the countryside, and could be termed a Country House. City people go to their country houses for holidays, bank-holiday weekends (three-day weekends to Americans,) the summer, and shooting weekends (they don’t shoot each other – they shoot game birds like grouse, pheasant, and then eat them for lunch and dinner!) The titled owners hire Penny to come to the home and cook for the family and invited friends, often numbering up to 25 and including Royals. The “top-of-the-line” Royals!
This is the third year Penny has come to us for the month of February, and as her international reputation evolves, so does the demand on her time. This year, she first traveled to St. Louis, then New York for an appearance on CBS television, up to Boston for a demonstration where she prepared a Welsh National Dish — Welsh Cakes. Then it was back to New York for a demonstration at the “Food and Wine Magazine’s” new, state-of-the-art kitchen. Finally, her plane brought her to us in Palm Beach County, Florida. Wellington to be exact.
So what do we prepare for Penny while she’s here? American Comfort Food! While she’s eager to make British Comfort Food like cauliflower-cheese for us, I focus on Hamburgers. Meat Loaf. Chicken Pot Pies. Brownies. Penny made Lemon-Drizzle cake. I made “Fruit That Sinks to the Bottom Cake.” She made Potatoes Anna. I made frozen, Ore-Ida Extra Crispy French Fries. Several times. The kitchen hummed and all of us gained weight — smiling through every pound!
Cooking is such a pleasure, especially when we discover new techniques, recipes, food combinations, pairings. But our souls also crave simplicity and familiarity. Just leave the country for a few weeks and visions of American comfort food start streaming through your brain. I remember dining at the American Club in Singapore and ordering steak. A baked potato swimming in butter and sprinkled with salt. And for dessert – cherry pie! After driving through Europe and Asia for ten months, I had found Nirvana! American Comfort Food.
Penny’s going to make a fish pie. I still have to make her mac and cheese. We’ll leave the fancy stuff for our dinner guests, and on evenings when it’s just us, we’ll dine casually and comfortably — on Comfort Food.