By Ann Cipperly

Thanksgiving is filled with family activities for Kelli and Chris Duncan, as they gather with family for a time of being grateful, singing songs together and savoring good homemade meals. The festivities begin the week before with a Thanksgiving potluck supper at their church, then a special service Sunday. Thanksgiving is celebrated with family Thursday and Friday. The week is capped Sunday with their annual Festival of Lessons and Carols service on the first Sunday of Advent.
Pastor Duncan is the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church. Both Chris and Kelli grew up in Opelika. When Kelli was growing up, she attended Trinity Presbyterian, where her father still plays the piano and organ. She also attended Trinity School where their daughters, Georgia, 16, and Clara, 14, now attend school.
Kelli and Chris married after she graduated from Auburn University. Chris graduated from Auburn University and Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham. He also received a doctoral degree in American history at Auburn.
After the Duncans lived in Birmingham for a couple of years, Chris received a position as assistant pastor from Trinity in 2000. He was called as senior pastor in 2006.
“It was really a blessing,” says Kelli. “I never thought the Lord would bring us here and to this church. The girls have been able to grow up near their grandparents.”
Kelli is thankful she was near her grandparents growing up, especially for the holidays. Her family would visit her maternal grandparents’ home in Phenix City for Thanksgiving and then go to Abbeville to spend the weekend with her father’s family.
After the Duncans were married and Kelli’s mom passed away, they began going to her father’s home in Opelika for Thanksgiving lunch. Starting this year, Kelli and her cousin will rotate hosting Thanksgiving at their homes.
Every year family members bring the same dish for Thanksgiving lunch. Kelli is sharing the traditional family recipes. Chris will cook the turkey, while Kelli prepares dressing and the hash brown casserole. Kelli will prepare some dishes ahead. She will cook the cornbread for the dressing and freeze, as well as the casserole.
Over the years, Chris has cooked the turkey using various methods, but they prefer the grilled turkey. The recipe he is sharing uses indirect heat. He has also smoked and fried turkeys, but it was a great deal of trouble.
Sometimes he will use a salt brine for the turkey. Although it takes a lot of space in the refrigerator, it produces a tender turkey. While the turkey is cooking, they watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on television.
When the family gets together at Thanksgiving and Christmas, they will sing hymns before the blessing is said for the meal. After dinner, Kelli’s father plays the piano, and they sing choir music and other favorite songs. It is a happy time with all of Kelli’s cousins singing.
Chris’ brother comes from Orlando, Fla. for Thanksgiving. The Duncans will go to Chris’ mother’s and step-father’s house, Lura and Bill New, for Thanksgiving supper. Kelli is sharing Lura’s dressing recipe that was her mother’s recipe that is prepared every Thanksgiving.
On Friday for lunch, the Duncans get together with Chris’ father and step-mom, Mary Kathryn and Mike Duncan, at their home.
“We get to see everybody at Thanksgiving,” says Kelli, “and we enjoy that.”
Saturday is a big day too with the Auburn-Alabama game, and sometimes they attend the game with their daughters.
Thanksgiving weekend is also the time they start decorating for the Christmas season.
Celebrating Thanksgiving starts early for the Duncans. The week before Thanksgiving their church provides turkey, ham, dressing and rolls for the Wednesday night supper, while members bring a side dish. Church service on Sunday has a Thanksgiving theme with music.
Thanksgiving is also celebrated at Trinity School, which goes through the 12th grade. They have about 250 students with 34 churches represented in the student body. Georgia and Clara enjoy attending. They have just finished volleyball season and are starting soccer.
“Thanksgiving is such a special time with family, music and food,” says Chris. “It is important to set aside a time to purposely give thanks to God for all the ways He has blessed us, to count those blessings and not take them for granted.”
Kelli echoes those thoughts. “It’s a great time to be with family and to remember all the things we have to be thankful about. It is also fun, too, because it is the start of the holiday season. We get to see everybody at Thanksgiving and look forward to seeing them at Christmas.”
Since Thanksgiving is late this year, on Sunday morning after Thanksgiving their church will hold their annual Lessons and Carols service. The Christmas story is read, and the Chancel and Chapel choirs present special music with an orchestra. The church will also hold a candlelight service at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve.

Cipperly can be contacted at


Chris Duncan’s Grilled Turkey Roast
2 sticks salted butter
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp. rosemary
1 Tbsp. thyme
2 tsp. sage
Preheat the grill to about 325-350 degrees. Remove all the giblets from inside the bird. Wash and rinse the turkey, then pat it dry completely with paper towels. Tuck the wings under the back and tie the legs together with twine so everything cooks evenly.
Mix 2 sticks salted butter, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 Tbsp. rosemary, 1 Tbsp. thyme and 2 tsp. sage together in a bowl. Rub the herbed butter all over the outside of the turkey until all the skin is covered.
Place a round disposable aluminum pan on the grill to catch the drippings and shield direct heat. Place the turkey on three big balls of aluminum foil to raise it up off the pan and allow the fat to drip but not get inside the grill.
Roast the turkey for about 4 and a half hours, until it has an internal temperature of 165 degrees and the skin is brown and crispy. Cook it for approximately 15-20 minutes per pound. Once you reach an internal temp of 165 degrees, remove turkey from grill and allow to sit for at least 15-20 minutes before carving.

Potato Casserole
1 (2 lb.) pkg. frozen hash brown potatoes
16 oz. carton sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup chopped onion or 1 Tbsp. onion powder
2 cups grated cheese, divided
Mix all ingredients together in 9 x 13 dish (reserving 1 cup cheese for top). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Lura New’s Cornbread Dressing
6 cups cornbread (mix in food processor)
3 cups white bread or cooked canned biscuits (mix in food processor)
1 ½ cups finely chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 quarts chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken soup
4 eggs (beat before adding)
Poultry seasoning to taste (taste before you add eggs)
Mix all ingredients together (should be soupy). Bake at 400 degrees for about 1 hour.

Pop’s Cornbread
You will need a round cast iron skillet. Over time, the skillet will season. Use the skillet only for cornbread, or it will pick up flavors from anything else (like fish or bacon). Never wash the skillet; just wipe it with a damp cloth and store it with a light coat of grease on the inside to prevent rusting. After it is seasoned, you will not need to oil it to store.
2 cups. buttermilk cornmeal mix (Martha White self-rising)
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil (about ¼ cup)
1 egg
Buttermilk (about half quart, but you have to eyeball it)
Preheat the vegetable oil in cast iron skillet in oven at 450 degrees. In a bowl, mix egg, cornmeal and buttermilk to pancake batter consistency. Add oil from preheated pan into mix and stir.
Pour all the mixture back into skillet. Bake at 450 for 15-20. Cornbread is done when you insert and remove toothpick with no residue. Dump cornbread upside down onto plate and serve.

Corn Casserole
1 stick butter
1 can whole kernel corn (slightly drained)
1 can cream style corn
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 stick butter
2 eggs
Melt butter in casserole dish. Add both cans of corn, muffin mix, and eggs. Mix well and bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Tomato Grits
1 ¼ cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1 cup quick cooking grits
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
¼ tsp. garlic powder
2 ½ cups (10 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
1 can diced tomatoes and green chilies (Rotel)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a shallow 2 quart baking dish.
Bring 2 cups water and the milk to boil in large saucepan. Add salt, then slowly add grits and return to a boil, stirring constantly 1 minute. Reduce heat, cover and cook 3 minutes. Add stick of butter; stir until melted. Cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes until thick and creamy. Remove from heat; set aside.
Melt remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in a skillet; add scallions and sauté 1 minute. Add to grits along with the garlic powder and 1 ½ cups cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Add tomatoes; mix well. Pour into baking dish.
Bake 40 minutes, sprinkling with rest of cheese for last 5 minutes baking time.

Baked Rice
1 onion (chopped and sautéed in 1 stick butter or olive oil)
1 cup converted rice poured in a 9 x 13 pan with 2 cans of beef consommé
Add onion to rice. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Chocolate Heaven
1st Layer:
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups flour
2 sticks melted butter
Mix pecans and flour with butter. Pat into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Let cool.
2nd Layer:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup Cool Whip
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
Mix together and spread over crust.
3rd Layer:
3 small boxes Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding
4 ½ cups milk
Mix together as directed on package. Spread pudding over cream cheese mixture.
4th Layer:
Spread remainder of 12 oz. container of Cool Whip over pudding.
Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
1 graham cracker pie crust
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 (12 oz.) carton Cool Whip, divided
Chopped peanuts, optional
Cream together cream cheese and sugar. Add peanut butter and cream well. Stir in 2/3 Cool Whip and put into pie shell. Put remaining Cool Whip on top of pie and garnish with chopped peanuts (optional).

Grandmother Akin’s Pecan Pie
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter or margarine
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
9-inch unbaked pie shell (not a deep dish)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, corn syrup and butter in saucepan. Bring to boil on high, stirring constantly until butter is melted. Remove from heat.
Gradually add hot syrup to beaten eggs, stirring constantly. Add pecans to first mixture and cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla to filling. Pour filling into pie shell and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Grandmother Duncan’s Sausage Pinwheels
Great for breakfast or brunch!
2 ¼ cups Bisquick
2/3 cup milk
1 lb. hot sausage
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Create dough with Bisquick mix and milk.
Split dough in two. On wax paper, roll out each section of dough. Make each one as wide as a cookie sheet as possible.
Spread out sausage (uncooked) evenly on both sections of dough. It spreads easier if you microwave sausage for 20-30 seconds. Sprinkle cheese all over each one.
With each section, start on one side and roll toward the other, creating a large log shape.
Wrap each one in wax paper and place in freezer for 15-20 minutes before slicing.
Slice into ½ inch pieces.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Chicken-Beef Casserole
This chicken recipe is great for Sundays to pop in the oven before heading out for church!
1 jar dried beef (rinsed and patted dry)
Bacon (1-2 strips per breast)
2 cans golden mushroom soup
½ pint sour cream (or a whole pint if you like!)
8 chicken breasts (or sometimes I use chicken tenderloins and wrap 1 piece of bacon around each one)
Line 9 x 13 pan with dried beef.
Wrap chicken with bacon and put in pan.
Mix together golden mushroom soup and sour cream and then pour on top of chicken breasts.
Cook at 200 degrees for 4 hours (or 250 for 3 hours); cover with foil if it’s starting to brown too early.
Makes 8 servings.

Chocolate Éclair Dessert
2 individual pkgs. graham crackers (1 16 oz. pkg)
2 (3 oz.) pkgs. instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups milk
1 (8 oz.) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (16 oz.) pkg. prepared chocolate frosting
Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan with graham crackers. In a large bowl, combine pudding mix and milk. Stir well. Stir in whipped topping to pudding mixture. Spread half of mixture over graham cracker layer.
Top with another layer of graham crackers and the remaining pudding. Top with a final layer of graham crackers.
Microwave chocolate frosting 45 seconds-1 minute (until runny) and pour over graham crackers. Refrigerate until serving.

Crock Pot Mac and Cheese
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 Tbsp. butter
2 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10 ¾ oz.) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Boil the macaroni in water for 6 minutes. Drain. Pour into crock pot along with butter and mix until butter melts.
Combine all other ingredients and cook on low for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Serves 4 to 6.

Brown Sugar Bacon Smokies
1 pkg. mini “smokies” sausages
1 regular size pkg. bacon
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
Cut bacon into thirds. Wrap each sausage with a piece of cut bacon, securing with toothpick. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes