Sunset Potluck on Fairhope’s Bluff

Residents of a small neighborhood, perched on a cliff overlooking Mobile Bay, gather for sunsets, snacks and a sense of community.

Neighbors meet neighbors, share recipes and enjoy the sweeping vistas over Mobile Bay from the Bluff in downtown Fairhope. Wooden pizza board, turquoise tumblers and melamine plates are by Living Well in Fairhope. Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

The waterfront along Mobile Bay’s eastern shore is mostly occupied by private homes behind gates and long drives, preventing the passerby from enjoying a view of the water. Make a turn into downtown Fairhope, however, and all of that changes. The city’s forefathers, a group of progressive intellectuals and artists who followed the economic principles of Henry George, had the foresight to set aside large tracts of public land along the shorefront. These many acres would never be developed except as parks and civic spaces, held for the public to use and enjoy. Because of this forward-thinking development, locals and tourists alike flock to the grassy parks and shaded sidewalks of Fairhope’s waterfront to enjoy the views and breathtaking sunsets provided by the town’s western vistas.

Artist Stacey Howell brings her husband’s venison poppers to the communal table.

One such public parkland perches on a cliff’s edge, high above the duck pond and public beach access, providing the homes on Bayview and the surrounding streets with quiet views of the water through tall pine trees. No single home monopolizes the view; rather the park and its bayfront vista is shared by the entire community. And community is what Pauline Anders was searching for when she established the neighborhood’s monthly sunset potlucks more than 30 years ago. Neighbors are reminded about the event by a small yard sign placed at the entrance to the Bluff, as the neighborhood is colloquially known, and each family makes their preparations. A stadium chair or two, a small folding table and a cotton tablecloth are the only setups required. Each family brings and shares appetizers and side dishes.

The cast of characters has changed through the years as families come and go. Children grow up and move away and newcomers flock to town. But a core group of homeowners, always spearheaded by Pauline, have kept the neighborly gatherings alive and well. On this particular evening, artists, food bloggers, teenagers, businessmen and retirees come together and find common ground over delicious snacks meant to be shared. Folks who have lived in the neighborhood most of their adult lives laugh and share recipes with newcomers who just arrived, looking for their own slice of utopia.

As Pauline passes the torch this year, and others begin to rally the troops at sunset, the gatherings on the Bluff show no sign of slowing down. Fairhope’s founders would certainly be proud of this tradition of gathering for the sake of community in a beautiful public space meant to be enjoyed by all.

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Sunset Sangria

Teen and Bob Siener make this Southern Living recipe nonalcoholic for sunsets on the bluff since alcohol is prohibited in city parks.

1 (750-ml) bottle rosé wine
3/4 cup vodka
1/2 cup peach nectar
6 tablespoons thawed frozen lemonade concentrate
2 tablespoons sugar
1 lb. ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 (6-oz.) package fresh raspberries
2 cups club soda, chilled

1. Combine first five ingredients in a large pitcher and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add peaches and raspberries. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours.
2. Stir in chilled club soda just before serving. Serve over ice garnished with a peach slice. Serves 8.

Rustic Sourdough Bread

Recipe by Deb Hopkins
Deb says it is best to begin this recipe in the evening so the bread can rise overnight.

1/4 cup active starter*
1 1/2 cups warm distilled water
4 cups King Arthur’s bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons fine Himalayan salt

1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until fully combined. Cover with a damp cloth and allow dough to rest for about 1 hour.
2. Knead dough into a smooth ball, no more than 20 seconds. Cover again with a damp towel and let the dough rise overnight in a warm spot, 8 to 10 hours or until doubled in size. (If you are unsure, place dough in a cool oven with the light on for the right temperature during rising.)
3. Remove the dough onto an unfloured counter and poke the dough with your fingertips to create dimples. Allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.
4. Line a brotform basket with a cotton dish towel. Shape the rested dough into a smooth boule or batard shape, pulling dough gently in a circular motion to tighten the form. Place in brotform smooth side down.
5. Cover dough with the towel and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24. Remove the dough and smooth the top of the loaf with all-purpose flour. Using a sharp knife, slice across the top of the dough about 1/2 deep to allow dough to expand and steam to escape.
6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Allow dough to return to room temperature while oven preheats. Line an enamel roaster, Dutch oven or stoneware cloche with parchment paper to make it easy to remove bread during the baking process. Add the dough.
7. Cover the dough with lid and place in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes covered. Remove lid and bake for 30 minutes more. Remove bread from bakeware and bake loaf directly on the rack for 10 more minutes. This aids in crisping the crust.
8. Remove bread and let it cool for about 1 hour before slicing. Best served the same day but bread can be stored in a paper bag or wrapped in cotton dish towel at room temperature for 1 to 2 days. Makes 1 large loaf.

* Deb has made sourdough for years using her own starter, but you can also buy an active starter online.

Coconut Salmon Cake Bites

Recipe by Shannon and Carlton Spinks

2 (14-ounce) cans salmon
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced chives
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Mix salmon, vegetables, breadcrumbs and seasoning together gently with a fork. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, then work it into the salmon mixture with your hands.
2. Pinch off a golf-ball-sized amount of salmon, roll it in your hands and then flatten to 1/2-inch thickness. Set aside on a large plate. Continue until all the salmon mixture has been used.
3. Add oil to a large saute pan and heat over medium. Add as many patties as will fit, being careful not to crowd them in the pan, and cook until brown on the bottom. Flip and brown the other side. Remove to a wire rack or plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve warm with dripping sauce (below). Serves 8.

Coconut Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup bloody mary mix, such as Zing Zang
1 (14-ounce) can coconut cream

1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, or all-purpose seasoning of your choice

1. Heat a medium saucepan over low heat. Add bloody mary mix and coconut cream and stir to combine. Remove from heat and add chives and seasoning, to taste.

Hummus Collard Wraps

Recipe by Theresa McCown

8 large collard green leaves
1/2 cup hummus of your choice
Sriracha chili sauce, to taste
1/2 each red and yellow bell pepper, sliced in thin strips
1/2 cucumber, sliced in thin strips
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup slivered Kalamata olives
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Wash collard leaves, then remove the stems and trim off the thickest part of the spine.
2. Fill a large saute pan with 1/2 inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add the collard leaves and steam for a few minutes to make them more pliable. Allow to cool completely.
3. Lay one collard leaf on a cutting board. Add 1 tablespoon of hummus to the bottom 1/3 of the leaf and drizzle with Sriracha, to taste. Top with a few slices of each of the vegetables, olives and cheese.
4. Fold the sides in towards the middle, and then roll the leaf from front to back until the filling is completely enclosed, keeping everything nice and tight. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until ready to serve.
5. Before serving, slice chilled wraps diagonally across the middle and serve cold. Makes 16.

Roasted Beet and Sweet Potato Salad

Recipe by Kristin Alpine

3 medium beets
2 small sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup pepita seeds
3 oranges, peeled and sliced crossways
1 cup cooked Israeli couscous or grain of your choice
microgreens or other greens of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Add first five ingredients to a large bowl and stir to coat. Place on a large, rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Toss for even cooking, then roast another 20 minutes.
2. Toss roasted vegetables with half the Orange Vinaigrette (below) while they are warm from the oven to better absorb flavors. Layer roasted vegetables, pepita seeds and couscous in small mason jars for an appetizer or large mason jars for a meal. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette, top with a few microgreens and serve. Serves 12 as a snack or 6 as a side dish.

Orange Vinaigrette

zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Combine ingredients and whisk. Makes 1/2 cup.

Shrimp Dip

Recipe by Nancy Brandon
Nancy has been making this easy recipe for more than 35 years. It was shared with her from a friend whose family was in the seafood business.

Old Bay Seasoning
1 1/4 pounds boiled shrimp, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 – 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
Generous sprinkle of garlic salt
Juice and zest from 1/2 lemon
Crystal hot sauce, to taste
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
3 green onions, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

1. Boil shrimp in Old Bay Seasoning, according to package directions. Allow to cool slightly, then peel and chop.
2. Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise and seasonings in a food processor until fully blended. Stir in green onions, jalapeños and shrimp by hand. Refrigerate to let flavors meld.
3. Serve with Fritos, Ritz crackers or stuffed in a fresh jalapeño half. Serves 10.

Antipasta Skewers

Recipe by Kathy McGuire

cheese tortellini of your choice
cherry tomatoes
Italian salad dressing of your choice
whole black or green olives
sliced salami
white cheddar cheese, cubed
bamboo skewers or large toothpicks

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Allow to cool completely.
2. Place pasta, tomatoes and salad dressing in a large zip-top bag and allow to marinate in refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight.
3. Skewer each item in the following order: olive, salami, cheddar, tortellini and tomatoes. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Venison Poppers

Recipe by Stacey and John B. Howell

John B. uses spaghetti instead of toothpicks to hold his poppers together to prevent someone getting a “toothpick through the roof of their mouth.” Genius.

1 wild venison tenderloin, frozen
Allegro Game Tame (Wild Game Marinade), to taste
1 8-ounce block cream cheese
4 jalapeño peppers, sliced into 8 – 10 strips
10 slices of bacon, cut into thirds
spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces

1. Thaw frozen tenderloin a little bit, then cut into thin medallions. Add the medallions and marinade to a zip-top bag and refrigerate for 1 to 7 days, depending on the gaminess.
2. Slice cream cheese into 3/8-inch squares. Lay a venison medallion on a work surface and top with a square of cream cheese and a strip of jalapeño. Roll up the medallion to enclose the filling. Wrap the medallion with a piece of bacon. Stick 2 – 4 pieces of spaghetti, as needed, through the popper to secure the bacon.
3. Cook on a hot grill until bacon is crispy and venison is fully cooked. Alternatively, you can cook under a broiler in the oven until the bacon on top is browned, then flip and finish cooking completely. Makes 30 poppers.

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