Harris Family Gathers To Celebrate Christmas With Multiple Meals

The family of Kay and Allen Harris are close knit and enjoy time together on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and evening, as well as Sunday suppers together throughout the year. Some of the family members pictured are, from left, Melissa Harris Skylah Harris, Kay Harris, Kennedy Gilbert, Natalie Harris Gilbert, Harper Gilbert, McCall Ray and Missy Harris.

By Ann Cipperly

While some families look forward to time together on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning or evening, the family of Kay and Allen Harris get together for all three meals and enjoy games, movies and other fun activities. Family members help with meals, preparing their specialty dishes.

Kay will start decorating for Christmas early at their spacious home in White Oaks. Since the family also comes for Thanksgiving dinner, she will have a 12-foot tree laden with ornaments in the living room and the fireplace mantel accented with a lighted garland. A festive arrangement is placed on the piano, while the dining room and foyer are also decorated with gleaming reindeers, candles, garlands and other Christmas finery.

Allen is the CEO of Baily-Harris and the developer of The Springs at Mill Lakes, the only 55-plus community in Opelika. Kay works part-time at State Farm, where she has been employed for 45 years.

The Harris’ son, Russell, is president of Baily-Harris. He and his wife, Melissa, have two children, Skylah, 16, and Chapman, 13.

Kay and Allen’s daughter, Natalie Harris Gilbert, and her husband, James, have two children, Kennedy, 11, and Harper, 9. Natalie has been co-owner of Ellie Clothing in downtown Auburn for 18 years, while James has been with the Auburn Fire Department for almost 25 years. They also raise cattle at a farm in Cusseta, which is turned into a pumpkin patch in October with animals and hay rides. James and his father plant a garden every year at the farm.

While James is the cook in their family, Natalie enjoys baking cookies and making gingerbread houses with their girls during the Christmas season.

The oldest daughter, Missy Harris, has two grown daughters, McCall Ray, who is a nurse at Grandview Hospital in Birmingham, and Payton, who is married to Jim Hester. They have three children, Hayes, 5, and twin sons, Harrison and Hampton, who are 20 months old. Jim owns a family business, and Payton works with her mother.

Missy is co-owner with three others of the Prime Real Estate Group. They renovated the building in back of Bailey-Harris for their office.

All of these family members spend all day Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and evening with Kay and Allen. Another daughter, Allison, who lives in Birmingham, comes for Christmas Day and brings her popular chocolate mousse dessert. They also invite others in the community for Christmas dinner.

The festivities kick off on Christmas Eve morning. McCall and Natalie will bake cookies with the children, while others are busy wrapping gifts and preparing dishes for Christmas breakfast or dinner. Kay will make two soups, potato and French onion, to serve that night.

There is plenty of kitchen space. Along with the large main kitchen and long island, there is a full kitchen downstairs and an outdoor kitchen.

At 5 p.m., Kay and Allen will go to their church, Trinity Christian Presbyterian in Opelika, for the music program. When they return home, Allen will build a roaring fire in the outdoor fireplace. Kay will serve the two soups for supper.

Allen offers a prayer before each meal, thanking God for each family member (one grandchild commented that the prayers last 15 minutes.). Allen will also share family history for the grandchildren.

After supper, the family goes to the home theater room and watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” and other movies. Then, everyone goes home.

Christmas morning, everyone arrives at 8 a.m. or earlier with the girls wearing their matching pajamas. Natalie and her family will open gifts at their home and then come over for breakfast. Missy will have breakfast prepared with a casserole and her yummy cinnamon rolls, which everyone enjoys.

After breakfast, the family opens gifts that are under the tree.

“It is loud, and there are presents and wrapping paper everywhere,” McCall said.

Photos are taken as the children enjoy playing with their cousins.

“They enjoy opening gifts, but the main thing for them is having fun with family,” Natalie said. “It is more about their relationships with each other than the gifts.”

After the gifts are all opened and the children are getting tired, everyone goes home to get dressed. Then, they all come back for dinner.

For a special celebration Christmas dinner, Kay cooks beef tenderloin, which is served with sides and desserts that family members have prepared. Melissa will bring a corn casserole and mushrooms that have been cooking in wine all night in a slow cooker. Natalie takes a chocolate pie, while James prepares his green bean dish. Payton brings mashed potatoes.

Allen serves an assortment of cheeses and creates an attractive salad arranged on a platter, which is his specialty. He will also select a few bottles of his best wine from the wine cellar.

Dinner is a festive occasion. On the long dining table, Kay arranges rose colored glasses from an aunt that she is named after. When Kay was 20 years old, she inherited the crystal and Haviland Christmas China that is now over a hundred years old. Another table is set up near this table for the ten grandchildren.

After the meal, everyone lingers for conservation, the table is cleared and the family plays games that includes all ages. One game is called Christmas crack.

While Kay and Allen look forward to the treasured time with their family at Christmas, they enjoy seeing them for Sunday supper that they host year-round. Everyone doesn’t get to come over every Sunday evening, but the family is there most of the time. The cousins enjoy playing together, and Allen plays basketball with his grandsons.

Kay learned how to cook by watching her father prepare meals when she was growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father enjoyed cooking more than her mother. Kay was the middle child of five in the family. Along with helping her dad in the kitchen, she assisted her father with caring for his Shetland ponies. Her father’s mother had an inn in Moreland, Kentucky, and prepared hearty breakfasts.

After Kay graduated from business school, she met Allen at Auburn. Allen, who has an interest in fine wine and foods, owned Maestro 2300 restaurant a few years ago. Since he has a love of Mediterranean food, for Sunday suppers he will assemble a platter of Manchego cheese, olives, almonds and bread for an appetizer.

Allen’s grandfather was a Lt. Colonel in the Army, and his grandmother Lallie enjoyed cooking and entertaining. Some of the dishes Kay prepares are Allen’s grandmother’s recipes. His grandmother, Lallie, had certain ideas about presenting a meal and savoring time with family. The Harrises have continued the tradition for gracious dining.

Kay and Allen have also enjoyed opening their home over the years to host charity events. They are involved in various organizations, serve on boards and give back to the community.

“We are fortunate that we have all of our family close by,” Kay said. “God has blessed us with a great family and a home for all of them to visit at once. Allen and I cherish these special times.”

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Missy Harris

1 frozen white bread loaf

Flour, about 1/4 cup

2 Tbsp. melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup walnuts

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup heavy cream


2 Tbsp. softened butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. milk

Prepare a baking sheet lined with wax paper and scattered flour over the wax paper.

Place frozen bread loaf in the center of the baking sheet and let it thaw.

*It will take roughly 3 hours if left out at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. See instructions on package for thawing.

When the dough has thawed, you can leave it on the baking sheet to roll.

Roll it out to approximately an 18 x 6 inch oblong piece. Brush melted butter over the rolled-out dough.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon and walnuts.

Spread it over the rolled-out dough.

Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, taking the longest side and rolling it unto a tight curl and continuing until it is completely rolled. Slice the dough into 14-16 (1/2 inch) pieces.

Spread the sliced rolls around the baking sheet, leaving room in-between for rising, cover and let rise for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Place the dough that has risen into 2 buttered round cake pans or a large casserole dish.

Pour heavy cream over the cinnamon rolls.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes.

Christmas Morning Breakfast Casserole

Missy Harris

1 lb. sausage

3 cups cooked grits (3 cups water and 1 cup grits)

Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tbsp. butter

10 oz. Velveeta cheese, cubed

6 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

Brown sausage and place in bottom of sprayed casserole dish. Cook grits and add salt and pepper, butter and Velveeta until blended. Pour grits over the sausage mixture. Whip eggs and milk together and pour over the casserole.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 350 until the egg mixture is firm.

Christmas Dinner Beef Tenderloin

Kay Harris

4 to 5 lb. Beef tenderloin, trimmed, cut in two pieces and tied.

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 Tbsp. olive oil

4 Tbsp. butter, salted, softened

2 tsp. garlic, minced

1 tsp. prepared horseradish or Dijon mustard

1 tsp. rosemary, minced or thyme

*The day before cooking, optional

Trim the beef tenderloin if it’s not already, then cut in half to make two pieces. Tuck the long end under and use butcher’s twine to tie the tenderloin.

Season all over with salt and pepper and leave in refrigerator, uncovered overnight, or at least 10 hours. *Not necessary but helps to give the tenderloin a great crust.

Day of cooking:

Tie up tenderloin and season with salt and pepper if you did not do this the day prior. Remove from refrigerator and set on counter for about 2 hours prior to cooking, to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place oil in a large cast-iron skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Sear the beef tenderloin on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes per side, creating a nice golden-brown crust.

Meanwhile combine softened butter, garlic, horseradish and herbs in a small dish and mix. Slather the seared tenderloin with the butter mixture and then insert a probe thermometer. If using the skillet, place in preheated oven, or transfer to a baking dish and place in preheated oven. Roast until desired internal temperature is reached, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove tenderloin from oven and transfer to a cutting board. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute before slicing into 1 inch slices.

Pappy’s Famous Holiday Salad

Allen Harris

This salad shows better on a large decorative plate. Because more surface area is exposed, our senses are heightened as we prepare for the feast.

2-3 stalks of romaine

One stalk purple leaf lettuce

Brussel sprouts (uncooked) chopped into thin slices, then use some the outer leaves

1/3 cup of radicchio grated

One cup baby kale leaves

One cup Mache lettuce, optional

Half a head of cauliflower, white or purple, pulled apart into tiny flowerets no larger than the end of your thumb

¼ cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup golden raisins

½ cup pepitas (seeds)

Very lightly add tablespoon coarse Himalayan salt

Drizzle Brianna’s vinaigrette (the bottle with the avocado on the label) slowly, let stand for a couple minutes, lightly partially toss, drizzle again to taste. Bonne appetite!

Slow Cooker Mushrooms in Wine

Melissa Harris

4 lb. white button mushrooms

2 sticks butter

1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 qt. Burgundy wine (other reds will work)

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 cups boiling water

4 whole chicken bouillon cubes

4 whole beef bouillon cubes

1 tsp. dill seed

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tsp. salt

Wash mushrooms and place in a slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients except salt. Stir to combine. Cook on low for 12 to 15 hours. Add salt to taste, if desired. Mushrooms will be dark in color. Makes 8 servings.

Chocolate Pie

Natalie Harris Gilbert

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

9-inch-deep pie shell

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat eggs in large bowl until foamy. Beat in flour, sugar and brown sugar. Beat in butter. Stir in chocolate chips and pour into pie shell. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Christmas Eve French Onion Soup

Kay Harris

3 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and chopped

1/2 stick butter

2 cans beef broth

2 cans water

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

For serving: Parmesan cheese and toasted croutons

Sauté onions in butter until soft. Add remaining ingredients except cheese and croutons in one pot and simmer 15 minutes uncovered on very low heat. Depending on the size of onions, you can add more beef broth, if needed.

Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese and toasted croutons.

Slow Cooker Green beans

James Gilbert

6 slices bacon

2 large cans Del Monte green beans, drained

1 large garlic clove

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Fry bacon and add crumbled bacon and other ingredients to drained beans in slow cooker. Cook on low 4 to 6 hours.

Christmas Eve Potato Soup

Kay Harris

3 cups potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1/2 stick butter

1 quart chicken broth

1 pint half and half

Salt to taste

Boil chopped potatoes until soft. Sauté chopped onions in butter and add cooked potatoes. Mash potatoes slightly into onion mixture once soft.

Add chicken broth, half and half and salt to taste and simmer.

Grans’ Party Potatoes

Payton Hester

8 large potatoes, cooked and drained

12 oz. small curd cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 green onion, chopped

Salt to taste



Combine first 6 ingredients; Beat with mixer until fluffy. Spoon into buttered casserole; dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Corn Casserole

Melissa Harris

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

1 can cream corn

1 egg

1 cup sour cream

1 box jiffy cornbread mix

1 stick butter, melted

Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Allison’s Chocolate Mousse Dessert

2 (4-oz.) bars German chocolate baking bars, coarsely chopped

4 large eggs, separated

2 Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 (7-oz.) pkg. (about 24) ladyfingers

Whipped cream, for serving

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a large metal bowl set atop a pot of simmering water (don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Add 3 Tbsp. water and stir well to combine. Remove from heat.

Add yolks one at a time, beating vigorously to incorporate each. Add sugar stirring well to blend.

In a large, chilled bowl, beat the heavy cream just until stiff. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites and whipped cream into the chocolate until incorporated.

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan or spring form pan with ladyfingers. Top with chocolate mixture. Chill 12 to 24 hours. Serve with whipped cream.


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