There is something infinitely comforting about small towns. The streets appear to be lifted from a children’s book, the orderly sort that teaches you neighborhood words: policeman, schoolhouse, doctor, farmer.
This week, we drove up into the Catskills for an evening by the lake, ending up in Woodstock for dinner. To get to the water, we drive past a tiny white steepled church, next to a wide brook that rushes over smooth gray boulders. A weathered red barn houses a theater where indie bands will play all summer. We drive out of town late at night with the windows down, the air smelling sweetly of cut grass.
My sister used to collect miniatures; she housed them in two glass-fronted boxes with real lights. Each box depicted a room, perfectly outfitted to the last detail. The kitchen had a tiny bowl with miniature fruit, a glass milk bottle the size of my pinky nail, a matchbox-sized side table. I could stare at them for hours. It’s wondrous how sizing life down makes it look perfect and manageable and neat as a pin.
Small towns produce a similarly soothing feeling, and I picture myself inside one of those miniature boxes every time I wander through one.
Towns like these are hidden all over the Northeast: dotting the green hills of Vermont and emerging from the shady New Hampshire woods.
You find the same things in every town: a bustling general store sits next to a funky, brightly painted record store. There’s always a coffee shop stocked with perfect, streusel-y muffins, rustic pastries, and hippie sandwiches like sprouts, hummus, and cucumber on seedy 7-grain bread. A gray, neatly shingled restaurant with a sign lettered in spare, clean font serves creative American classics, with an emphasis on the fresh and local. Walk through town at night and pass: a one-room movie theater, a bike shop, an ice cream parlor, a bookshop, kids playing kickball on a lawn in dusky evening light, live music in front of the town hall building.
I love these towns for their precise, predictable, comforting rhythms. It’s like walking into a Gilmore Girls episode, where the biggest problem will be finding the diner closed on a Saturday morning or running into your high school boyfriend over the heirloom tomato bin at the market.
Small towns conjure up simple, stripped-down, flavorful meals: peach pie with vanilla ice cream, grilled filet mignon with chive butter and mashed potatoes, Bibb lettuce salad with a Green Goddess dressing. So on days where I can’t be in a picturesque, postcard-worthy place, I make something that transports me away from the hot, sticky, manically busy city.
I might be dodging foot traffic on Broadway, or trying to do yoga amidst endless sirens, or getting elbowed at the cheese counter at Fairway – but I can come home and eat pie on the terrace and escape.
Peach Blueberry Galette
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
This is really a cross between a pie and a galette (King Arthur calls it "humble pie" and I agree: it's messy and inelegant and mine leaked, but it's delicious nonetheless). The crust is a sturdier pie dough made with egg, and you fold it up on a cookie sheet around your fruit filling.
Feel free to use frozen fruit, just don't thaw it first. If your crust leaks, don't fret. It's hard to avoid and will look sort of sexily rumpled that way. But do try and roll your crust very evenly -- if you see cracks, keep folding it over and rolling to warm it up a bit. That should help soften the dough and make it smoother, which will prevent cracking.
For the crust
1 2/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup cold butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons ice cold water
For the filling
3 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (you can substitute any berries here)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
For the crust: combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in the cold butter and shortening until the mixture is crumbly-looking, with lumps the size of peas. Whisk together the egg and water, then drizzle this over the flour mixture. Stir to combine -- until the dough begins to come together in a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times to gather it together into a cohesive ball. Pat it into a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (you can do this step a few days ahead of time).
When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 13" circle. Place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
In a small bowl, mix together the sliced peaches, berries, sugar, and flour. Mound the fruit filling on the center of the dough circle. You want to leave at least 3 inches around the edge.
Fold the excess dough up around the fruit filling -- carefully! Try not to tear the dough anywhere. If it rips, pat it back together. You can either crimp the dough together with your fingers, or pleat it over onto itself like a classic galette (just make flat folds, working clockwise, and be sure each fold is sealed so juice won't leak).
Sprinkle the crust with raw sugar and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit juices are bubbling.
Let cool, then serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Also fantastic for breakfast the next morning, cold from the fridge.