Porch Party

Fresh air and a deep front porch call neighbors together during social distancing in Oakleigh.

Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

The streets around Mobile are quiet, and most people are at home, navigating their new normal of social distancing and working from home. Summer is here, and the hot sun beats down on the roofs of the historic homes in the Oakleigh Garden District. Turning onto the last block of South Georgia Avenue, however, where the road dead-ends at Crawford Park, a lovely breeze is blowing. There is a touch of salt in the air, and the pavement seems a little cooler. From the front porch of the Ashbees’ home, summer in the city doesn’t seem too bad at all.

The Aranses and Ashbees

“As the crow flies, we really aren’t far from the Bay,” Zack Ashbee says of the refreshing breeze, his imposing stature incongruous with his easy smile and fun-loving personality. The former Alabama football player and his wife Catherine — a ballet teacher and mother of three — talk about the pleasures of living at the end of the cul-de-sac, where the dog park, tennis courts and fresh Bay breezes are a part of porch life on the fourth block of South Georgia Avenue.

While the Ashbees haven’t always lived in the OGD, as it’s called, they have always loved old houses and appreciated the appeal of a close-knit neighborhood. They looked for a house in Oakleigh off and on for years, but since each home has such a unique floor plan, they never found the right fit for their growing family. Then, right about the time their two oldest children hit high school and their former home on Japonica was no longer working, the Radcliff house (formerly owned by Pete and Carol Mackey) came on the market. “The house didn’t need a thing,” Catherine explains, “and that really appealed to us. It was move-in ready.”

The lure of live oaks and big front porches, calling the Ashbees to Oakleigh, was aided by the constant drumbeat of friends Jace and Paige Arans, who live on South Georgia as well. When the former Texans relocated to Mobile, they found the appeal of the OGD too great to resist. After becoming fast friends with the Ashbees, they played cheerleader for the neighborhood every time the two families gathered together. It wasn’t a hard sell.

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Having close friends down the street makes for great impromptu dinners and happy hours, but Catherine promises that all Oakleigh neighbors gather like that. In addition to the planned OGD socials, Mother’s Day concerts and progressive dinners, neighbors are just drawn to one another’s porches for visits that turn into drinks and then wind up as potlucks. “If you see somebody on their porch, you know you are welcome to head on over,” Catherine laughs. It’s an extrovert’s dream, and with social distancing the new way of socializing, an open-air front porch gathering is just the ticket for a summer at home in Mobile.

Lemon Horseradish Burger Sauce

Zack grills mini sliders for guests using ground sirloin and serves them on King’s Hawaiian rolls with melted provolone cheese, a slather of his lemon horseradish burger sauce and fresh arugula.

1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise 
1/4 cup ketchup 
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of kosher salt

Whisk all ingredients and refrigerate 30 minutes before serving. Makes 1 1/2 cups

Ranch Water

The Arans’ Texas roots inspired this cocktail. It can easily be multiplied to make by the batch. Combine the ingredients in a large pitcher and leave on the bar for self-service.

3 ounces Don Julio Tequila, Reposado or Anejo 
4 ounces Topo Chico Mineral Water
juice of 1 lime
several dashes of orange bitters 
agave nectar, to taste (optional)
lime slices, for garnish

Mix all ingredients in a highball glass until well combined. Add ice to fill glass and garnish with lime slices. Makes 1

Texas Corn Dip Recipe

The Aranses make sure to bring a little bit of the Lone Star State to every gathering.

6 ears corn 
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped, reserving a little for garnish
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, reserving a little for garnish
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise 
1/3 jar pickled jalapeños, finely chopped 
8 ounces chopped pimentos 
4 cups Mexican shredded cheese
1 cup Mexican Cotija cheese, crumbled, reserving a little for garnish
juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
bag of tortilla or corn chips, for serving

1. Place corn in a large pot of water and bring to a boil, cooking 5 minutes. Remove from water and allow corn to cool. Cut corn kernels off the cob, reserving a little for garnish. 

2. Mix corn with remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 

3. Before serving, top with reserved green onions, cilantro, corn and cheese. Serve with chips. Serves 12

Cucumber, Tomato and Onion Salad

This colorful salad couldn’t be easier. Swap out the dressing for whatever flavorful vinaigrette you have on hand.

2 1/2 purple onions, chopped 
2 1/2 cucumbers, chopped 
2 pints cherry tomatoes 
salt and course ground black pepper, to taste 
Garlic Expressions dressing (purchased from The Fresh Market)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill 
goat cheese, crumbled, for topping

1. Combine vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, then thinly coat the salad with Garlic Expressions dressing. 

2. Toss to combine. Add the dill and toss again. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve. Serves 10

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

While the recipe only requires refrigerating the dough for a half hour, Catherine says chilling overnight gives a more intense, toffee-like flavor.

1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup salted butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips, or to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, salt and butter until well combined and no lumps remain. Whisk in the egg and vanilla, beating until light ribbons fall off the whisk. Sift in the flour and baking soda, then fold the mixture with a spatula, being careful not to overmix. Fold as many chocolate chips as you would like, then chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. 

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the dough with an ice-cream scoop onto the baking sheet and bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the edges have started to barely brown. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Makes 24 cookies

Windie Knowle Whipping Cream Pound Cake

Windie Knowle is Catherine’s family farm in Evergreen, dating to the early 1900s. There is no leavening in this cake, so it is important to whip the butter and sugar until really fluffy! 

12 ounces softened butter (Plugra is recommended)
3 cups sugar
6 extra large eggs, at room temperature 
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pint heavy cream, room temperature 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour 1 large tube pan or 2 loaf pans.

2. Whip butter with heavy mixer and gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour and heavy cream in three alternating increments. You should begin and end with flour. Do not overmix! Add the extracts and stir just until incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 90 minutes. Serves 12

Whipped Cream

1 pint heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar gradually, then whip in the sour cream and vanilla until soft and billowy. Makes 4 cups

Macerated Strawberries

2 quarts fresh strawberries, sliced
sugar, to taste
zest of half a lemon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and cover, refrigerating for 2 hours. Makes 2 quarts 

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