In a community like the Oakleigh Garden District, neighbors can’t help but become friends. Waving to one another on walks eventually leads to small talk, and small talk gives way to long conversations on front porches and around dinner tables. The close proximity of the homes and the pride Oakleigh’s residents take in their community naturally result in an easy, organic camaraderie.
Even with friendships easily built, it is still impossible to know everyone in such a large neighborhood — or so it would seem. But by using their skills in the kitchen, a group of Oakleigh under-40s is bringing everyone closer together.
“A friend and I started talking about how we wanted to get more younger people involved in the Oakleigh Garden District Society, ” says Catherine Mackey, who grew up in the neighborhood. “The under-40 crowd was underrepresented in the existing meetings held by the neighborhood organization. So we decided to start a supper club to bring all the younger folks together.”
Mackey and her friend Lang Hamilton emailed about 75 people they knew in the neighborhood. Interest was strong as the RSVPs rolled in; 55 people responded “yes” for the first event in September 2017. Mackey and Hamilton planned a progressive dinner with three host homes. Each host coordinated the food — eight couples brought appetizers, 12 couples pitched in to cater the entree and six couples handled dessert. Everyone walked from house to house together, and drinks were served from a baby pool filled with ice in the back of a pickup truck. The feel was decidedly casual with plenty of fun touches. That first successful supper club was followed not long after with a second gathering in December. The host served Christmas cocktails, and everyone brought an appetizer. This month, the members will gather for Mardi Gras at a home along the parade route.
“It’s a lot to coordinate, but several of us have event planning backgrounds, so we enjoy it, ” Mackey says. “We use tables and chairs from all around the neighborhood and keep it casual and laid-back.”
With so many different participants all bringing something from their home kitchens, the food is plentiful and diverse, but favorite dishes are slowly emerging with each gathering.
“We all have our specialties. The cranberry brie bread my friend makes sounds basic, but it is a star, ” Mackey says. “I always make my Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. The food doesn’t have to be fancy or hard to make. Food is a huge draw, but being together and getting to know each other is what’s most important. Today, somebody just brought a rotisserie chicken!”
Since the supper club began in the fall, under-40 attendance at the Oakleigh Garden District Society meetings has increased.
“The goal of the OGDS is to keep people here in the neighborhood, attract new people and pass the torch to the next generation, ” Mackey says. “It’s such a beautiful area, and we want to make sure everyone is pitching in to help keep it clean and fun.”
Even more importantly, the supper club has deepened relationships in the community.
“I’ve gotten much closer to several of my neighbors through the supper club, ” Hamilton says. “The dinners encourage us to have more real conversations that we couldn’t really have just walking the dog or saying ‘hi’ while getting out of the car after work.”
For a neighborhood that is already known to have plenty of heart, these young residents are creating deeper bonds than ever. They are also encouraging people to buy their own historic home in the area — who wouldn’t want to join in on this fun? Come hungry and leave with a full stomach, a full heart and a full register of newly-acquainted neighbors.
Lemon Berry Prosecco Sangria
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup strawberries, de-stemmed and sliced
1 bottle prosecco
1. Place lemon slices in the bottom of a pitcher or punch bowl. Sprinkle sugar on top and muddle.
2. Add sliced strawberries. Muddle the strawberries into the lemons.
3. Add prosecco to the pitcher. Fill with ice and serve. Serves 4.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 pound Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2/3 cup raw pecans
1/4 cup dried cranberries
5 bacon slices
Maple Dijon Vinaigrette (see below)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place butternut squash chunks and Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20 – 30 minutes, turning twice during cooking to ensure caramelization. Scatter the pecans and dried cranberries onto the baking sheet for the last 5 minutes of roasting time.
2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon and chop into small pieces. To make the vinaigrette, mix all ingredients together and stir with a fork or whisk until well combined.
3. When vegetables are fork-tender, remove from oven, place in a serving bowl and toss with bacon and Maple Dijon Vinaigrette. Serve warm. Serves 6 – 8.
Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
dash of olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Cranberry Brie Pull-apart Bread
1 sourdough bread loaf
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2/3 cup chopped raw pecans
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 16-ounce wheel of brie, cubed
1 cup dried cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the top of the bread horizontally and vertically to create 1-inch crosshatches, being careful not to slice all the way through.
2. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons butter, pecans and brown sugar. Use your hands to mix together to create a crumble topping. Set aside.
3. Thinly slice the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and insert into the slices you made in the loaf of bread.
4. Place the loaf on a baking sheet and stuff cubes of brie in-between the crosshatches of the bread, filling in all the spaces. Continue stuffing the bread with the pecan crumble and cranberries.
5. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the brie is melted and gooey. Serve immediately. Makes 1 loaf.
West Indies Salad
“This recipe is from Bayley’s Seafood Restaurant, ” Mackey says. “Follow these instructions to the letter!”
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
salt and pepper, to taste
4 ounces Wesson Oil
3 ounces cider vinegar
4 ounces ice water (as cold as possible)
1. Spread half of the chopped onion over the bottom of a large serving bowl. Top with picked and separated lumps of crabmeat. Add the remaining onion. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Pour oil, vinegar and ice water over crabmeat mixture.
3. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 – 12 hours. Toss lightly and serve over lettuce or crackers. Serves 4.
text by Jill Clair Gentry • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau