A Virtual Holiday with Don Elmore

As Christmas looms on the horizon, we continue to look for ideas and inspiration to adapt our holiday traditions. While you look for ways to connect while keeping you and your loved ones safe, we asked Don Elmore, Director for the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Champaign County Economic Development Corporation and owner of Jane Addams Bookshop how he will spend his holidays.

“We have hosted a dinner and gift exchange at our house for many years with about 20 family members. A dinner wouldn’t be safe but the gift exchange will happen via Zoom, and we can now include family members as far away as Tennessee, Denver and Alaska!” He goes on to say, “These are always raucous events with rampant gift stealing and underhanded teamwork (all in good fun – usually). Maybe it will be better, at least for family relationships, as a virtual event.”

Holiday meals are often a highlight of family gatherings. Don shares their traditional meal. “Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner has become very popular recently but we have been making it for many years. Ingredients are locally sourced if possible: Lasagna with homemade “all day” meat sauce, Caesar salad, garlic bread, tiramisu. Family members have their own roles in preparing the meal. When did this become so popular? Now if you wait too long to shop you can’t find lasagna noodles or ladyfingers.”

“Because many of my recipes are “make as you go,” I will share a simpler, perfect go-to cold weather meal.”

Braised Guinness Beef Roast (thanks to Triple S Farms)

  • ~3 lbs beef portion (chuck, tri-tip, or round – inexpensive cuts are fine for this – or flank or brisket if you want to spend more)
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 1 lb mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 can (14.9 oz) Guinness Draught
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • Flour, salt, pepper, herbs to taste
  1. Lightly dust the beef roast with salt, pepper and flour. Heat oil in a stock pot large enough to hold all ingredients, then brown the roast on both sides.
  2. Remove the roast, then sauté the onions until they begin to turn light brown. (Add more oil if needed.)
  3. Add ½ cup water to deglaze the pot, then return the roast to the pot.
  4. Add mushrooms and any desired herbs (small amounts of bay or sage work well)
  5. Add Guinness.
  6. Add water so about half of roast is covered; more may be added later as needed.
  7. Reduce heat to a low simmer.
  8. Cook for at least 2 hours, turning roast occasionally and adding water if needed.

Spotting Santa

Those classic pictures of children sitting with Santa may be canceled this year, but there’s still opportunities to spot him around town!

The Champaign Center Partnership is hosting Santa in downtown, campustown, and midtown this month for socially distanced photos. Catch him at these dates and times:

  • Campustown, Saturday, December 5, 2:00–3:00 p.m.
  • Midtown, Saturday, December 12, 1:00–2:00 p.m.
  • Downtown, Saturday, December 19, 1:00–3:00 p.m.

Can’t spot Santa during these times? Don’t worry! We have a virtual background for you to use so you don’t miss a year of Santa photos. Simply download the photo below and use a photo-editing program to add your children to the pic. Hopefully there will be no tears with Santa this year!

Photo courtesy of the Champaign Center Partnership

Beer & Wine Pairings for Your Stay at Home Holiday

Our holiday dinners will look different this year, as we keep safe distances from friends and family. However, that doesn’t stop you from having the perfect pairing of beer or wine with your meal. We asked some local experts what they would pair together. Check out what Todd at Art Mart, and Katie at Riggs Beer Company had to say.

We asked Todd to come up with a holiday meal and select the wines he would pair with each course. Here’s his recommendations:

“We will start with Champagne and chilled shrimp. Specifically the N.V. Etienne Doue Cuvee Selection, a 60/40 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that is a racy mix of orchard fruit with a creamy texture. Doue is unusual in Champagne. They grow their own grapes, and make the wine. Jokingly referred to as farmer fizz. Dinner is typically centered around a large piece of beef. This year we will be doing dinner for two with Beef Wellington, roasted potatoes and something green on the side. Which means for me, Bordeaux. My pick is the 2015 Baron de Brane Margaux, rich and sumptuous Margaux that opens with notes of black currant, blueberry and tea spice like perfume. Smooth and soft on the entry with velvety dark fruit. Finish is long, with present but smooth tannins.”

For our beer lovers, we asked Katie, as self-proclaimed mixologist what pairs well with Riggs’ offerings. Let’s just say, your options are plentiful. Here’s her extensive recommendations:

The American Lager is a great pallet cleanser that sits easily in the background while adding body and depth to any dish. Perfect for someone looking to focus on the food or just enjoy something easy drinking and light bodied. This beer pairs well with mac and cheese, soft pretzels, cheese ball appetizer, marinated tofu, beef stew, fennel sausage, fried foods, green curry, margherita pizza, noodles, lemon sorbet, gingerbread cookies, and pumpkin pie. 

Try a “Radler” by mixing 2 parts American Lager with 1 part of your favorite citrus soda in a pint glass. 

The Hefeweizen is a German-style wheat beer made with a yeast that gives this beer its signature flavors of banana and clove. The wheat malt gives this beer a lovely creamy mouthfeel and gentle flavor. This beer is perfect for brightening the flavors of a dish with fresh raw ingredients or warm spices. A Riggs “Hef” compliments gouda cheese, scalloped potatoes, venison, sushi, pork tenderloin, apple walnut salad, kale salad with pomegranate seeds, orange juice, pad thai, pastries, apple pie, vanilla bean ice cream, and banana bread. 

Try a “Screwdriver” with ice, 1 part vodka, 1 part OJ, and 1 part Hefeweizen–topped with an orange wheel.

The India Pale Lager is a lovely balance of the bitterness and flavor found in hops.  Lager yeast provides a clean base for the hops to really shine in this crisp, subtly-hopped beer. Citra and Cascade hops provide citrus and floral notes with balanced earthy and spicy undertones. It’s perfect for intensifying spice or cutting through rich flavors. This beer pairs well with spicy food, dry gin, savory herbs, steak tacos, rosemary potatoes, mesquite BBQ sauce, sushi, fried chicken, meatballs, antipasta, cranberries, fruit salad, and sugar cookies.

Try a “Gin and Tonic” with ice,  1 part dry gin, 1 part Tonic water, 2 parts India Pale Lager, and finished with a  lime wheel. 

The Red Lager is made using dark German malts to create a red color and subtle fruitiness. A healthy dose of American aroma hops accentuates the fruitiness and provides a refined bitterness that will leave you ready for another drink. Perfect for sitting by the fire at the end of the day. This beer pairs with pepperoni pizza, smoked meats, spinach artichoke dip, deviled eggs, garlic bread, sauteed mushrooms, fruit cake, chocolate cookies, and creme brulee.

Try using half a glass of Red Lager in a savory soup or stew to add a generous helping of flavor and complexity. 

The Barleywine is a strong, malt-forward lager that is made for sipping slowly. At 8.9% abv, this beer is great for cold winter nights and is best enjoyed alongside a holiday feast. Locally grown and malted barley gives this beer its complex flavor and rich character. Barleywine is an ideal selection for those who may not normally select wine as their drink of choice, which makes this the perfect beer for replacing the usual glass of red wine with dinner. This beer pairs with goose, duck, barbacoa, chicken and dumplings, twice-baked potatoes, roasted veggies, dark chocolate,  cranberry trail mix, and pecan pie.

Try using Barleywine as an addition to your roasted meats to add a robust and malty flavor as well as adding a rich and fragrant aroma to your kitchen.

The Schwarzbier is dark, well hopped, medium strength lager. Schwarzbier’s complexity is derived from its heavy use of dark, roasted, and smoked barley malt. It’s a roasty beer, with a hint of smoky sweetness that’s balanced with a robust hop bitterness. Staying true to its German Lager heritage, it has an incredibly clean, crisp finish. It is a perfect beer for a cold winter night to have alongside dessert. This beer pairs well with oysters, stew, chili, smoked salmon, briney dishes,  lobster, mole, rabbit, peppermint, yule log cake, beer cheese soup, chocolate ice cream, caramels, and fresh baked sugar cookies.

Try the Schwarzbier as your base beer for beer cheese soup or a beer batter.

The Weizenbock has a higher ABV, is slightly darker, and has more body than its little brother, Hefeweizen. Weizenbock’s fruity aroma will remind you of Hefeweizen, but due to its higher alcohol content, Weizenbock also has notes of vanilla and rum. The use of Riggs-grown wheat and dark, Munich malt gives this beer a wonderfully bready flavor and aroma. Our wheat beer yeast’s spicy character helps to cut through a mild sweetness to deliver the balanced finish that you’ve come to expect from a Riggs Beer. The warm baking spice and higher alcohol content make this a perfect drink to warm you up.This beer pairs well with honey glazed ham, baked sweet potatoes, cheese ravioli in a butter sauce, enchiladas, spiced nuts, tomato soup with grilled cheese, pine nut hummus, mashed potatoes, black bean and butternut squash soup, cheesecake, gingerbread men, and chai tea.

Try using Weizenbock in your banana flambe. 

Regardless of your choices, Champaign County has endless options to meet your beer and wine needs as you plan your holiday meals at home.

Updated Quarantine Guidance


Based on updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CUPHD will implement a 10-day quarantine for persons identified as close contacts to someone with COVID-19. Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if a person does not have symptoms. For persons that choose this option, CUPHD recommends testing on day 10 and self-monitoring of symptoms through day 14. If symptoms develop at any time, individuals should go for testing immediately. Testing is available for everyone at Marketplace Mall, more info here

People can also be released from quarantine with a negative test collected on day 7 or after of your quarantine. In order to be released from quarantine and receive a release letter from Public Health, the individual must send an email to coronarvirus@c-uphd.org with the following information: 

  • SUBJECT: Release from Quarantine 
  • Full name 
  • Phone Number 
  • Proof of negative test result (must have test collection date) 

*Please note that requests with incomplete information will not be processed. CUPHD will not look up proof of negative tests for people, you must provide the proof of negative test to us or complete the full 10 day quarantine. 

Our contact tracing team will process these release requests and follow-up with any questions that we have. You will receive a release letter to the email that you provided within 48 hours of your request. 

If you are currently under quarantine and being monitored by CUPHD, you can request a shortened quarantine by emailing coronavirus@c-uphd.org with the following information: 

  • SUBJECT: Shortened Quarantine 
  • Full name 
  • Phone number 

We will look in to these changes and contact you if we have questions. Please allow 48 hours for these requests to process. If you have questions about your new quarantine end date, please call 312-777-1999. 

A Virtual Holiday with Steph Petrov

Steph Petrov is a junior in Political Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign  and current president of the local chapter of Amnesty International, a student program of the University YMCA

Like many other undergraduate students on campus, Steph is home for the holidays until the end of January. With both of her parents likely working from home during this period given the recent surge in COVID cases, Steph hopes this will create opportunities to do more things together as a family, such as revisiting familiar traditions like decorating. 

“My favorite part is definitely decorating. I absolutely love decorating for Christmas—just putting up the lights. It’s always been something I would do with my family,” Steph explains. She also hopes to adopt new traditions like taking in the sparkling wonderment of drive-thru holiday light displays around her hometown. 

Keeping holiday festivities small and celebrating remotely with extended family is nothing new for Steph, whose parents immigrated to the US from Bulgaria in the 1990s. Despite the distance, each year, she finds time together with her parents and younger brother to celebrate with grandparents, cousins, and other loved ones overseas by phone. 

Steph also embraces Bulgarian holiday traditions in the kitchen. “I have baked a Bulgarian Christmas bread every Christmas Eve since I was in high school. It’s a Bulgarian tradition to wrap a coin in aluminum foil and bake it in the bread. The coin symbolizes a prosperous new year for whomever receives it in their piece of bread.”

Want to try this Bulgarian tradition? Steph shares the recipe so you can try at home.

Christmas Eve Honey Bread

Recipe shared from Seasons and Suppers


  • 3/4 cup warm water 
  • 2 tsp. instant or dry active yeast 
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 4 Tbsp. vegetable, canola or any neutral tasting oil 
  • 2 Tbsp. honey 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 


Add yeast to warm water, stir and allow to sit for a few minutes. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour. Add the yeast/water mixture, the honey, oil and salt. Mix the dough until it comes together, adding a bit more water or flour, as necessary, then knead by hand or with your dough hook, into a soft, smooth dough. 

Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic warp and let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 30-60 minutes. 

When the dough has doubled, place on a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so. Cut out and set aside a fist-sized piece of dough (to be used to make the top decorations). Knead the fortune coin (I used a whole pecan in place of a real coin) into the remaining dough and then roll into a flat round shape. Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet. 

Using the reserved piece of dough, cut small pieces and shape into the various elements to decorate the top of the bread. Decorate the bread with ears of wheat, apples, grapes or flowers. To make the top of the wheat, use some clean kitchen scissors to snip v-shaped snips into the dough. Once all your shapes are placed on the bread round, press down lightly over the top of them to flatten slightly and ensure they stick. In a small bowl, combine the honey and oil and brush liberally over the entire top of the bread. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 400° until golden and cooked through, about 20 – 25 minutes. Check the bread regularly after 10 minutes and cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil if the top is browning too much.

The Spirit of Giving

This Giving Tuesday, we recognize the many challenges our community is faced with during the pandemic. There are many options to donate to the organizations that support our residents, students, workers and our overall community vitality.

The spirit of giving goes beyond one day this holiday season. As you continue to build new traditions in 2020 due to the pandemic, consider the gift of giving. Challenge our family, friends, and co-workers to donate or volunteer for a local organization to aid on the path to recovery.

The United Way of Champaign County assembled a comprehensive list of ways you can contribute this holiday season. Among the various opportunities:

  • Adopt-A-Family Programs
  • Family Volunteering and Community Collection Drives
  • Holiday Meals
  • Coat/Clothing Drives

Your service and donations will continue to ensure safety for families and individuals who need assistance. We want to know, how will you give back in 2020?

A Virtual Holiday with Dr. Pam Lau

I did not grow up with Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is an American holiday with its attendant traditions.  Being an immigrant from Singapore, I had to learn what Thanksgiving is all about.  When my husband, Lawson, and I first arrived in Illinois as international students, church friends invited us into their homes to share in their Thanksgiving celebrations and traditions. They regaled us with stories of family and customs.  We feasted over turkey and its associated trimmings, which included dishes that were strange to my then southeast Asian palate.  Like sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar!

A major drawback about being an immigrant is that your extended family is thousands of miles away.  The traditional Thanksgiving gathering with family is simply not practical.  But drawbacks come with opportunities.  Through the church, we ministered to international students, scholars and their families.  So, we created our own extended family – a family of international friends who had no other family in the U.S.  In the early years, I would cook the American Thanksgiving meal for 75 to 80 people.  My helper team comprised mostly international women who all wanted to learn how to roast the big bird, prepare mashed potatoes, make cranberry sauce from scratch, and put together that ubiquitous green bean casserole.  International friends would contribute to the meal by bringing a sumptuous dish from their own countries. Our children grew up thinking of Thanksgiving (and Christmas) as huge international celebrations. In more recent times, we have invited international friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in our home.  We have downsized the crowd to 12 to 20 people due to space limitations.  After turkey and pumpkin pie, our international friends help set up our Christmas tree, a first for many of them who do not come from countries where Christmas is celebrated in homes.

Thanksgiving 2019

The current pandemic is, alas, an unwelcomed gamechanger and a major disruption to our beloved traditions.  We will not have international friends over.  I will truly miss the joy of having people from many nations present at our Thanksgiving table as well as the fun of seeing international friends decorate a Christmas tree for the first time.  Thanksgiving this year will be a four-person family affair.  Our two adult children plan to come home (as of the time of writing).  JohnMark will do a COVID test before returning; Andreana is observing a strict 14-day quarantine.  A quieter Thanksgiving. The turkey will be smaller.

Yet again, drawbacks bring opportunities. This time, the pandemic opens the opportunity to focus less on hosting and more on thankfulness. 

In spite of the pandemic and its related concerns, there is much to be thankful for.  I am so thankful for family – our family here and my sisters and their families across the ocean.  The bonds of love remain strong and are much cherished.  I am ever grateful for meaningful work, challenging but fulfilling.  For the support of colleagues and friends. For home and shelter. Health and sustenance.  Rest and refreshment.  Faith, love, and grace.  A good reminder of what really matters in the long term.

We may have to scale back celebrations, but there is no scaling back on the spirit of gratitude and thankfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Lau shares her favorite holiday recipe:

Some 30 years ago, I found this mashed potato recipe in a cookbook (when cookbooks were still a thing).  I have since prepared it almost every Thanksgiving.

  • 8 potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender
  • 1 stick of butter (4 oz), softened
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1 packet of cream cheese (8 oz), at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Drain and mash the potatoes with the butter, sour cream, cream cheese, chives, and spices.
  2. Spoon into a buttered casserole.
  3. Bake 40 to 50 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven, until the surface is golden.

This may be prepared the day before through step two and refrigerated.  Two hours before baking, remove from the fridge and let stand at room temperature.  Then bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 to 50 minutes.


A Virtual Holiday with Chancellor Robert J. Jones

Ready to celebrate a virtual Thanksgiving this week? Distanced holidays are the best gift of health you can give to your loved ones and your community this year. We’ve asked people in our community how their holiday traditions will change for 2020 to give you inspiration for your upcoming celebrations.

Giving us inspiration, and making our mouths water, is University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Chancellor Robert J. Jones, sharing his family traditions and how it will look different in 2020.

“Since my mom passed, my sister has made all of the Thanksgiving dishes that were part of our family holiday tradition. No matter where I am living, she cooks everything that can be made ahead of time, deep freezes it, loads it into suitcases and brings it to wherever we are living – she’s very popular with the Skycaps at the airport when they figure out that she’s traveling with a buffet!”

Chancellor Jones and his wife, Lynn, traditionally make Thanksgiving a whole family affair but recognize the reality that 2020 brings. “My whole family and Lynn’s whole family gather at our house, not so much to see us, but to be a part of my sister’s wonderful meals. We know it simply isn’t safe to gather in large groups this year, but we will all miss my sister’s amazing Thanksgiving dinner.”

To adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, Chancellor Jones shares, “We will talk on the phone with each other, and the family members who are lucky enough to live near my sister will drive to her house, and she’ll meet them in the driveway – wearing masks and practicing social distancing, of course. And she’ll load plates of food into their cars. My nephew is planning to drive 55 miles one way to pick up his dinner. Lynn and I will have a quiet dinner at home, and we’ll have to make do remembering the taste of those wonderful dishes my sister makes every year. I’ll have to check the freezer and see if there might still be anything left over from last year!”

Asked about his favorite dish, Chancellor Jones says, “I don’t cook, but my favorite dish on Thanksgiving is sweet potato pie. My mom always made the traditional kind, and my sister still does. She cooks the potatoes, purees them, pours them into the crust and bakes the pie. Some people do outrageous things like adding raisins or pecans. In my family that is blasphemy.”

We hope you find some of that pie in your freezer from last year! Thank you, Chancellor Jones for sharing your Thanksgiving traditions and for helping to “Spread Cheer, Not COVID.”

A Virtual Holiday with Julie Pryde

Planning a virtual alternative to your holiday plans? Good plan. Distanced holidays are the best gift of health you can give to your loved ones and your community this year. We’ve asked people in our community how their holiday traditions will change for 2020 to give you inspiration for your upcoming celebrations.

First up, Julie Pryde, the Public Health Administrator for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, who has been working hard to keep our community safe. Julie shares her holiday traditions and what she’s looking forward to this year.

“My favorite part of the winter holidays has always been cooking and having my family gather. My family has always celebrated on Christmas Eve, and then usually go to a movie or two on Christmas Day.”

When asked how these traditions will be adapted amidst the pandemic, Julie says, “We will be gathering virtually, through Zoom or Facetime.  We can still talk, catch-up, see how my littlest relatives are growing, and share stories. I will continue the tradition started at Easter of delivering a full holiday meal, complete with wine, to older friends who are staying safe in their homes.”

She adds what she hopes to be a new tradition, “I hope to be able to Zoom with my littlest nieces and nephews as they see what Santa delivered.”

We all know the role food plays in our holiday celebrations, so we asked Julie about her favorite holiday dish. “My family & I like stuffed mushroom caps. These are usually eaten on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. They are just large button mushroom caps filled with spicy sausage, chopped stems and shredded cheese. Easy to make, but so good!”

We like anything easy to prepare, especially during these trying times.

Thanks, Julie, for helping to “Spread Cheer, Not COVID.”