In 2018, when the INDY came up with the idea of a virtual holiday potluck, we thought it would be a peek into the private family traditions of well-known North Carolinians from different cultures, religions, and stages in life.

And it was. 

We learned that no holiday at the North Carolina Executive Mansion is complete without First Lady Kristin Cooper’s ridiculously delicious pineapple fluff pie. We found that Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin likes her shrimp spicy, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe likes his deviled eggs dyed blue, and WRAL’s Ken Smith is always good for a Caribbean recipe from his Virgin Island home. We also discovered that the most fashionable man on the guest list, designer Alexander Julian, loves pig in its humblest iterations—country ham and pit-cooked Eastern-style barbecue.

We also thought the virtual nature of the potluck was a cute little gimmick that wasn’t just one more scheduled event during the holidays for busy people. Instead of a multi-part, many-houred obligation, our invitees were given weeks to come up with a recipe and a little bit of its history. 

Then, one day, we all awoke to 2020.

Life became a surreal daze of masks, hand sanitizer, and Zoom. We learned terms like “disease mitigation” and “PPE,” and how to tell the difference between N95s and surgical masks. The concepts of social distancing and aloneness were the most ubiquitous—and, social animals that we are, the most difficult to adapt to. For many of us, social media became our lives, and the virtual our reality. 

But after three years of probing North Carolina’s good and great, we’ve learned one immutable fact: Holiday foods are about indulgence, tradition, and comfort. And no matter how well-known or powerful the person sitting at the table is, the ultimate indulgence and maximum comfort come from the foods we ate during those celebrations when we were children.

2020 is the harshest of mistresses, a 100-year year when every day brings fresh, unexpected hell. This year, this annus horribilis, we need all the comfort we can lay our frequently washed hands on.

So share with us, Gentle Reader, a virtual feast full of good food, fellowship, memories of happier times, and hopes for a brighter future.

In addition to the potluck dish, we asked our attendees two questions this year:

 1) Is COVID-19 changing your holiday traditions, and if so, how are they changing?

 2) Use a crystal ball, consult the stars, or read some tea leaves and give us your very best prediction for 2021.

Drinks and Apps 

In October, after a six-month COVID-19-created delay, Durham Distillery, makers of Conniption Gin and Damn Fine Liqueurs, opened its in-house cocktail bar, Corpse Reviver.

To lubricate the festivities, Corpse Reviver and its bartender, MJ Weber, invented two cocktails: the Boreas, a concoction made with their new Conniption Barrel Aged Gin, and the Nosferatu Flip, made with Damn Fine Coffee Liqueur.

Cherie Berry, North Carolina’s retiring Commissioner of Labor, is bringing her favorite libation, a bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. She says she is refusing to set her clocks back this year, because, as she says, “I am not giving 2020 one more hour of my life!”

Ken Smith of WRAL is contributing his mother’s salmon balls, served as a starter before holiday dinners. “I have very fond memories of competing with my cousins to see whom among us would score the most salmon balls before dinner,” he says. He also enjoys them throughout the year as a main, served with rice and salad.

Steve Schewel, Mayor of Durham, will be bringing chopped chicken livers, which he calls “the ultimate Jewish food.” The recipe comes from the Grossingers, but he says that “[My] mom, the world’s best cook, cheated and added some mayo—definitely not kosher! And I do it, too.”

Triangle acting legend Ira David Wood III was our first guest to weigh in this year. “Lots of people bring heavy dishes or casseroles to potluck gatherings,” he says. “I like to bring soup. ONION SOUP. People love it! I make it in a crockpot, and it takes a bit of time (two days, actually)—but it is delicious and well worth the time!”


Chef Gray Brooks, owner of Littler, Jack Tar, and Pizzeria Toro, is one of Durham’s best chefs and restaurateurs. This year, Littler is offering take-home Thanksgiving dinner kits for four. In it, and on our potluck table, is his homemade green bean casserole, made from scratch, with nary a can of soup or pre-made onion ring in sight.

Sweet potatoes have a big fan in Josh Stein, North Carolina’s recently re-elected Attorney General. Last year, he brought Dooky Chase’s sweet potato rolls. This year, his contribution is sweet potato casserole, made according to Martha Stewart.

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler also has sweet potato casserole in hand. The recipe is from his wife, Sharon, and originated from Aunt Delores Sockwell. Unlike Stein’s, this version comes sans marshmallows, with a brown sugar topping in its place.

Troxler also contributed the happiest prognostication for 2021. As Agricultural Commissioner, he’s the man in charge of the N.C. State Fair. “It will be a slow process,” he says, “but as the year goes on, things will return to a more normal state of mind, and we WILL have a State Fair in 2021.”


Lisa Prince, Executive Director of the NC Egg Association and co-host of WRAL’s Local Dish treats us to her pumpkin bread and a little advice for celebrating during the time of COVID-19. “Most people have avoided any and all celebrations and occasions this year as if they didn’t even happen,” she says. “We need to make that effort for one another, especially now. We can still give gifts and show love for one another—even if we can’t celebrate in person.”

Newly appointed Durham City Councilperson Pierce Freelon brings his family’s chocolate chip banana bread—gluten-free and, if you swap the honey out for maple syrup, vegan—as well as the rosiest prediction yet. “2021 will be a year of change, transformation, elevation, and manifestation,” he says. “In the words of Octavia Butler: It’s time for us to shape change!”

Main Dish

Alexander Julian is a Chapel Hill boy made good. In 1969, he dropped out of UNC and opened his first menswear store, Alexander’s Ambition. The rest is fashion history, with numerous awards and successful clothing lines. He’s also the designer of University of North Carolina’s current graduation robes—and the mind behind the argyle-clad athletic uniforms.

He’s now living mainly in Connecticut, but North Carolina is always on his holiday table—this year in the form of a Lady Edison ham, airmailed from Chapel Hill barbecue joint The Pig.

Plutarch said, “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

After Chef Ricky Moore, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, had mastered a fair number of the most prestigious kitchens around the world, the native North Carolinian went a different way.

He moved back to the Tar Heel State and opened a small walk-up restaurant that resembles a snack shack at a softball field. It in no way looks like what it is: the atelier of an artist who takes seafood and simple Southern ingredients, elevates them, and turns them into world-class cuisine. Moore’s Saltbox Seafood Joint now has two locations in Durham and has been recognized by the James Beard Society.

2020 is his first appearance at our table, and his freshman contribution is full of fresh NC coastal ingredients, reminiscent of his childhood in New Bern.

The contribution: Coastal Carolina Gold Crab Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, and Cornbread Crumbs. It’s a main dish disguised as a side dish, and perfect for guests (like myself) who could take but would rather leave that traditional gobbler on its harvest-themed platter.

Singer-songwriter Rissi Palmer is the INDY’s other first-timer at this table. She is adept at many genres, but made country music history in 2007, when she became the first Black woman to land a song on Billboard’s Hot Country chart since 1987.

Ten years ago, as newlyweds, Rissi and her husband decided to celebrate Thanksgiving à deux. They opted for dishes that were unique to them both, to begin their own holiday traditions.

After plenty of research and shopping, a menu was created. From this dinner came Palmer’s contribution to our potluck table: cranberry chutney, a dish that has its roots in India, with plenty of ginger, spices, citrus, golden raisins, and sugar.

“The centerpiece was the turkey, but also the chutney,” she remembers. “My husband loves it and requests it every year, and if I don’t make it, he is very frustrated.”

Celebrations will be different this year. Instead of cooking a big meal for guests, Palmer, who has two daughters, says that it will be “just the four of us”—hanging out on the couch, watching movies, and eating popcorn (and maybe some candy). “That means mommy doesn’t have to cook!” she says.

“I don’t want to make a prediction,” she says. “I don’t like to make predictions, because sometimes I’m cynical. I’m gonna err on the hopeful side, and instead tell you what I hope. I hope that we—as a country, as a human race—start to realize that our fates are tied together. I hope that we become a more empathetic society, that we are more careful with our words, that we are more careful with our votes. I hope that you’re safe and that you’re treating each other well. And I hope that you’re treating yourself well.”


Since our first virtual potluck, North Carolina First Lady Kristin Cooper has been an enthusiastic participant. And we’ve learned a secret about her: She has real cooking chops, and she loves to take a recipe and make it her own. She’s added a few changes to each dish she’s brought that only make it better. This year’s dessert is a raspberry pecan bar recipe from the now-closed Durham bakery, Francesca’s Dessert Caffe. She ups the flavor by increasing the jam and lemon and toasting her pecans. 

Cooper also has a new tradition that frankly is the best idea of 2020: “We have started serving tacos as our Christmas dinner, to mix things up.” 

INDY Week’s 2020 Virtual Potluck Recipes 

Boreas Cocktail

Contributed by the Durham Distillery

2oz Conniption Barrel Aged Gin

1/4oz Mulled Wine Demerara Syrup **

4 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes Orange bitters

Place all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, stir until chilled, pour over a large ice cube in a rocks glass, garnish with expressed orange peel.

Nosferatu Flip

Contributed by the Durham Distillery

2oz Damn Fine Coffee Liqueur

1oz Averna Amaro

1 egg

Pour all ingredients in a shaker, add ice, shake for 15-20 seconds. Strain cocktail from large shaking tin into small shaking tin. Dry shake for 60 seconds. Double strain into a brio coupe (or any sort of coupe). Garnish with lemon twist and grated nutmeg.

Mulled Wine Demerara Syrup

1 bottle (750mL) of a medium bodied red wine

400g (approx. 2 3/4 cups) of turbinado sugar

1 crushed whole nutmeg

8 crushed pieces of cinnamon

2 whole sprigs of rosemary

6g cardamom

6g cloves

6g star anise

Peel from 2 whole oranges 

Place all ingredients in a medium pot over medium heat, stirring until sugar has fully dissolved. Bring syrup to a slight boil, reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and let simmer at low for 45min. Remove from heat, let chill to room temperature, and then strain into a storage safe container. 

Salmon Balls

Contributed by Ken Smith

2 Cans of Red Salmon or Pink (whichever your preference)

1 small minced onion

1 small minced green pepper

1 small minced red pepper

2 stalks of minced celery

2 minced cloves of garlic

1 tsp thyme

¼ tsp Black pepper or hot pepper

2 eggs

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tbsp of tomato paste

¾ cup of Bread crumbs

½ cup of flour

Cooking oil for frying

Combine all ingredients, except the flour; stir well. Then, form round balls, roll in flour, before frying.  Deep iron pot or deep fryer is recommended. The salmon balls will float when frying.

Brown the salmon balls; drain on paper towel. Serve with ketchup or creole dipping sauce.

Creole Dipping Sauce

 Sautee sliced onions, red and green peppers, garlic, parsley, thyme, ¼ tsp black pepper, 3 tbsp of tomato paste, 2 tsp ketchup; 1 cup of water; Simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Chopped Chicken Livers

Contributed by Steve Schewel

2 lbs. chicken liver

8 T. rendered chicken fat 

4 onions diced 

6 hard-boiled eggs

2 t. kosher salt

1/2 t. fresh-ground black pepper

(Mayo, per my non-kosher Mom.)

To render the fat, fry the skin in a little oil and butter until it liquifies.

Wash the livers. Heat 4 T. fat and brown the onions. Remove onions. Cook livers for 10 minutes. Grind or chop the livers, onions and eggs until smooth. Add the salt, pepper and remaining fat. So good!

Slow Cooker French Onion Soup 

Contributed by Ira David Wood III

French onion soup is about as classic as it’s possible for a dish to be, and there are few other soups that we find as satisfying, especially during the winter time. Still, as simple as it is, actually preparing and cooking it can be a time-consuming, tricky process, especially since the key element is cooking the onions slowly and carefully to caramelize them.


3 pounds yellow onions, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

2 sprigs fresh thyme

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

8 cups (2 32-ounce cartons) beef broth

⅓ cup brandy, optional but recommended

4 to 6 baguette slices, toasted (1 slice per bowl)

1 ⅓ to 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (⅓ cup per bowl)


1. Put the onion slices in a 5-quart (or larger) slow cooker, along with the butter, olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

2. Cover the crockpot and cook on low overnight, or for 10-12 hours. The onions should be dark golden brown and soft.

3. Add the beef broth, balsamic vinegar, and fresh thyme.

4. Cover and continue cooking on low for 6 to 8 hours.

5. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired, and stir in the brandy, if using.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius).

7. In evenly-portioned amounts, ladle the soup into oven-safe bowls. Place the bowls on a baking sheet to catch any spills while in the oven.

8. Top each bowl with a baguette slice and the shredded Gruyere.

9. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is completely melted.

10. Turn the oven to broil and brown the tops for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before enjoying!

Green Bean Casserole

Contributed by Gray Brooks


2.5 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 sweet onions, sliced about ¼ inch thick

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups canola oil

4 tbsp. butter

1 large shallot, minced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

6-8 sprigs thyme

12 oz. mixed mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup dry sherry

2 cups heavy cream

1 ½ tsp. salt

1 tbsp. black pepper


1.   Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; blanch green beans for 2–2.5 minutes, until tender but still crisp. Drain and submerge beans in ice water to cool; drain again, and move to a drying rack or paper towels. Dry completely.

2.   In a deep pot, heat the oil over medium high until it reaches between 300–325°F, or until a pinch of flour dropped into it begins to sizzle. In 5-6 small batches, toss the onions in the flour, and, one batch at a time, drop into the oil, stirring gently to keep separate, and for +/-3 minutes, until light golden. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove to a paper towel and season with salt. Repeat until all onions are done. Set aside.

3.   Over medium heat, melt butter in a large saucepan and add mushrooms; sauté for about 6 minutes.

4.   Add shallots, garlic, and thyme sprigs; turn the heat to high and sauté for an additional 2 minutes.

5.   Add sherry to pan; lower heat to medium-low and stir. Reduce for 1 minute.

6.   Add heavy cream; stir and bring to a simmer, then reduce for about 8 minutes.

7.   Remove from heat, mix in salt and pepper, and let cool until just warm. Taste and adjust seasoning.

8.   In a large mixing bowl, toss the green beans, mushroom/cream mixture, and between ¼ and 1/3 of the onions. Add to a 9×13 inch casserole, pressing down firmly into the dish by hand.

9.   Top with remaining onions.

10. Bake at 400°F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the casserole looks nice and bubbly and the onions are a deep brown.

This is really easy to make, and probably a world apart from the one your mom used to make with Campbell’s cream of mushroom and Bird’s Eye green beans. (Please don’t tell her I said that.) The beans will retain their snap and taste nice and fresh and—dare I say?—healthy. A nice, guilt-free foil to the lush mushroom-and-cream base.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Contributed by Attorney General Josh Stein

My wife Anna’s grandmother made an incredible sweet potato casserole for the holidays. This recipe, care of Martha Stewart, comes close.


3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 8), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1/2 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons butter 

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup of ground walnuts

2 cups mini marshmallows or chopped regular marshmallows


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place sweet potatoes in a large saucepan, and cover with cold water by 1 inch; salt generously. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, and return to pan. Heat over medium, stirring, until liquid has evaporated and a thin film covers bottom of pan, about 2 minutes.

2. Remove pan from heat; add milk, butter, walnuts, and nutmeg. Mash until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Transfer sweet-potato mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. (To make ahead, refrigerate, up to 1 day.)

3. Top casserole with marshmallows; bake until center is warmed through and marshmallows are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Pumpkin Bread 

Contributed by Lisa Prince


1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1/3 cup raisins or currants

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 tsp. vanilla


1.  Heat oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

2.  Combine flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Toss pecans and raisins (or currant) with 1 tablespoon flour.

3.  Beat butter and sugar in a mixing bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, pumpkin, orange juice, and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients, and beat until blended. Stir in pecan and raisin (or currant) mixture.

4.  Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F until the bread begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Loosen the bread from the sides of the pan with a thin knife, and gently shake the bread out onto a rack.

Freelon Family Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Contributed by Pierce Freelon


2 cups almond flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp pinch Himalayan pink salt

2 bananas (mashed)

2 tablespoons flax, freshly ground

3 tablespoons water

2-3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey

2 tablespoons coconut oil (melted)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 and line the pan (s) with parchment paper, or cupcake pan with liners.

In a small bowl, mix together the freshly ground flax and water. Allow to sit for about seven minutes.

In another bowl, mix together the almond flour, baking soda and Himalayan pink salt. Set aside.

Mix together the mashed bananas, flax mixture, coconut oil, maple syrup or honey and vanilla extract. Once combined, add in almond flour mixture and stir. Fold in chocolate chips and pour into desired pan.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Coastal Carolina Gold Crab Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts & Cornbread Crumbs

Contributed by Ricky Moore 

Serves 6


2 cups cornbread crumbs

1 1/2 cups uncooked Tidewater Grain Company® Carolina Gold rice

2 1/4 cups water or chicken stock

Pinch salt

2 strips salt pork with a streak of lean

1/2 cup butter

1 stalk celery, small diced

1 medium green bell pepper, small diced

1 medium onion, small diced

1 medium sweet potato, small diced

1 cup brussel sprouts, shaved

1 1/2 to 2 pounds crabmeat (lump or claw)

1 tablespoon garlic powder

Salt and black pepper to taste

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped


Using a non stick pan add a bit of butter and toast the cornbread crumbs until crisp and light brown. Set aside on a plate and paper towel to use later for garnish.

Measure the dry rice; then rinse and drain it several times. Put rice, water, and salt in a medium pot.

Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer until the rice is done and the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes or more.

Fry the salt pork until crispy in a 12-inch skillet; when the salt pork is done, remove it from the pan, set aside, and crumble when cool.

Add the oil to the bacon fat in the skillet and heat. Add sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, celery, bell pepper, and onions. Saute until all the vegetables are soft; then add the crab and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the crumbled salt pork, cooked rice, and garlic powder, along with salt and pepper to taste, and stir constantly until evenly combined. Cover the mixture and simmer for at least 5 minutes. (If you’d like a meatier mixture, just use more crab and less rice.)

Sprinkle a generous amount of crisp cornbread crumbs and fresh chopped parsley.

Cranberry Chutney

Contributed by Rissi Palmer

Empty a 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries into a saucepan and transfer 1/2 cup to a small bowl. Add 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1 strip orange or lemon zest, 1/2 cup red wine, a cinnamon stick, 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, 1 each sliced unpeeled orange and lemon (seeds removed), 1/4 cup golden raisins and 2 tablespoons water to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the reserved cranberries. Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste and cool to room temperature before serving.

Francesca’s Raspberry-Pecan Bars

Contributed by First Lady Kristin Cooper 


2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

12 tbsp. (1 ½ sticks)

unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar, packed

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

2⁄3 cup seedless raspberry jam

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice


1. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325 degrees. Butter an 11¾ x7½ inch baking pan (see Notes). 

2. In a medium-size bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

3. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add sugars and continue to beat, until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract. 

4. With a spoon, stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Reserve 3 tbsp. of pecans and stir in the rest. 

5. In a small bowl, stir together jam and lemon juice. 

6. Press about half the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Spread with jam mixture. Flour hands and crumble remaining dough evenly over the top. Sprinkle with reserved pecans. 

7. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and firm. Cool in a pan on the rack. When cool, cut lengthwise down the center and then crosswise to make 20 bars.


A 9×11 inch glass baking dish will work. Use 2⁄3 of dough to cover the bottom of the dish and reduce the baking time to 40 minutes. Bars will be thinner. 

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