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Any time my friend Virginia Willis writes a cookbook (or a blog post, or shares her recipes in magazines and newspapers, or appears on my TV screen, or at a festival, or on a panel, or at a podium), I know the world and I are in for a glorious treat. Virginia’s comprehensive knowledge of all things culinary, from professional and home cooking to food history and science, combined with her sense of humor, generous spirit, smarts, and wisdom, mean that we will learn and laugh and leave a little better off than we were before.

Her latest book, “Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome”, is right on time for me, because I have been working on taking care of my health and myself (a rhyme, almost!) for a while now. Creating and maintaining positive attitudes and good habits around cooking and eating are key to moving myself in a good direction. That good direction is the road to health, strength, and beauty.

I want to live a long time in the best health I can possibly manage. I want to feel good and happy and proud of myself, inside and out. I want to love how I look and feel. I want to create and embrace habits that help me take off the weight I don’t need and build up and maintain the energy and flexibility I do need for my long, happy, healthy life. This is a new path for me. I’ve taken my health for granted until the last several years, and I get impatient for results and discouraged when said results come in slow and subtle, when they take time and dedication. Having guidance, ideas, encouragement, and inspiration helps me stay focused, making it easier for me to follow this path. 

This book delivers exactly what I need in order to move toward these goals, with Virginia’s thoughtful words, wonderful recipes for deliciousn dishes suiting all kinds of occasions, and lovely, inviting photographs by the brilliant and talented Angie Mosier, of Placemat Productions. 

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Virginia WIllis’s Sauteed Green Beans with Summer Corn and Fresh Basil, from “Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome”.

About those recipes: I’ve cooked three of them so far, pictured here, along with the recipe for the luscious strawberry shortcakes at the end of this post. I’ll keep on cooking, starting in on the spring-and-summer season dishes. How wonderful to dig in on this book as farmer’s market season gears up, with extraordinary seasonal vegetables and fruits beckoning me to grab a sack and tote home an abundance of good food: good-for-me food.  My list of to-do-soon recipes includes: Smoky Eggplant Dip; Field Peas and Beans with Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette; Bourbon Grilled Pork Chops with Peach Barbecue Sauce; and Garlic Chicken and Greens with Cornmeal-Herb Dumplings.


Virginia Willis’s Oven-Fried Okra from “Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome”

I subscribe to Virginia’s blogposts, and especially loved this one about her new book  which she wrote back in February as it was about to be published, and this recent one, with wonderful photos from her family albums and reflections on then and now.

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Virginia Wilis’s Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcakes from “Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome” Recipe below.

Virginia is out around the country on book tour now, and you might could meet up with her along the way. For the latest on her appearances and events, CLICK HERE. 

All Virginia’s books deliver excellent recipes and thoughtful prose, and in three of them, gorgeous photographs. For the scoop on her books, CLICK HERE, and for a peek at their covers (which you can judge a book by in this case and many others) , scroll down to check them out.

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grits-1You can find Virginia’s recipes on The Food Network‘s website where she contributes blogposts about what’s she’s been thinking about and cooking up lately. Check out this post on her latest book HERE, and this post on collard greens with smoked turkey and whole-grain buttermilk cornbread HERE.

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Let me leave you with one right-on-time recipe from “Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome”. Virginia’s strawberry shortcake sets the scene for sweet spring celebrations. Pretty, simply constructed, it’s ready and waiting when you want to pull a wonderful treat out on short notice or at the end of a big feast. I think you will love this inviting springtime recipe as much as I do, and I think you will love Virginia Willis and following her adventures all around the culinary world, as I do.
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 Virginia Willis’s Brown Sugar-Strawberry Shortcakes from

“Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome”

For the shortcakes:

  • 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼  teaspoon fine seat salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon water (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons raw, turbinado, or demerara sugar (optional)
  • 4 cups sliced strawberries

For the vanilla cream:

  • ½ cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and oil and pulse until the mixture resembles meal. Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Process until the dough pulls together. (It will be very soft.)

Using a rubber spatula, transfer the dough to a floured board. Knead several times so the dough comes together. Pat evenly into an 8-inch circle about ½-inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 2 ¾- of 3-inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the shortcakes will rise evenly when baked.

Place the shortcakes on the prepared baking sheet. Gather the dough together and repeat with remaining dough. Brush the shortcakes with water and sprinkle with water sugar. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly.

Toss the strawberries with the remaining tablespoon of raw sugar in a medium bowl.

Meanwhile, make the vanilla cream. Combine the yogurt, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract in a small bowl and stir. Set aside.

To serve, split the shortcakes horizontally. Spoon the strawberries and juice onto the bottoms, top with the cream mixture and replace the shortcake tops. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 shortcakes

This recipe comes from Virginia Willis’s “Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome”. Ten Speed Press. Copyright 2015 Virginia Willis. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. Jamie Reply

    This book is on my wish list! I love reading Virginia”s stories and she is a fount of knowledge about Southern cooking… and everything she makes looks divine! A wonderful write up of an awesome woman, chef and author!

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