Virginia Willis Blog

Finding What You’re Looking For

Finding What You’re Looking For

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was a kid. During a short pit stop in Atlanta last weekend, I spent some time uploading childhood photos to an online printing service (these photos actually originated as slides). It was a far cry from my childhood memories of my mother sealing a roll of film in a paper envelope and dropping it in a box at the drug store. I didn’t have to move from my living room and they will appear, just like magic in a few days. No cashier, no paper money, and no contact with a human.

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Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was a kid. I’ve mentioned how personal Lighten Up, Y’all is. This book tour has given me a lot to think about and stirred up a lot of powerful emotions. Honestly, the whole pursuit of me downloading and uploading was that I wanted some paper photographs of me as a child to hold in my hand. I wanted to really look at that little girl and see her, to try to really see her. The one thread I recognized during the process is that I always seemed happiest when I was in the kitchen cooking or fishing and the same holds true today!

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In these past few weeks I have received many emails and social media messages from people as well as “real human contact” with the folks that have attended my cooking classes or stopped by a book signing. Some of those encounters have been incredible. One young woman who was quite overweight dawdled after class until everyone had left the room. She divulged in a whisper that she had planned on getting lap-band surgery, but after my class had decided that she wanted lose weight and become more healthy through changing her eating habits and increasing her physical activity. Her eyes glistened with tears. I could feel the pain emanating from her.

At another class, a woman shared that she’d struggled with bulimia for nearly 18 years. From all outward appearances, she was of normal size and normal weight – but who could know what she sees? One evening, I chatted with a couple as I signed their book after class. The husband surprised me and in a slightly croaking voice he said, “I wish she’d listen to you; I tell her everyday she is beautiful and she doesn’t believe me.” She stood beside him with her head hung low and nodded in agreement. She was indeed, from all outward appearances, beautiful. Another student was built like an absolute brick house. She’d lost 75 pounds and had become a weight lifter. She had tears running down her cheeks during much of my cooking class, and it’s not because I was chopping onions. It’s all been very inspirational.

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What I have come to realize is that we all have something. Some folks think we’re too fat — others think they’re too skinny, too tall, too short, too pale, too dark, too frail, too freckled, or too “something.” I think that we all have some internal demon nagging us with negative thoughts. To that I say, “be gone Satan!” and I say that only partially in jest. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe we have to take responsibility for our bodies; the doctors aren’t making this stuff up. At the same time, I know happiness isn’t found in a number on a scale or how one looks in the mirror. Happiness isn’t found on the outside. I’m reading a beautiful book called An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. In the first chapter she writes, “Everyone is looking for the X that marks the spot and they can’t see it because they are standing on it.” What we’re looking for is found within each and every one of us, and I strongly believe we all have the power to find it.

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I am still on a path, a journey. I won’t tell you for a minute that I don’t have my moments; I have plenty. It’s an everyday effort to silence those demons, find what you’re looking for, and meet your goals. Just remember this, when you are working towards a goal, be proud and strong with every step you take toward it, not just when you meet it.

Recipes will resume next week. Thanks for reading.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

End Notes: Out and About

  • Lots of reviews and links to recipes are available on my press page.
  • I’ve got a good many classes, signings, and appearances planned all around the country. Please check out my events page. If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class, book signing, or for me to visit your book club, let me know! Please send an email to and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.
  • And, on the note of travel, a lot of you are quite amused by my tongue-in-cheek “Airport Apparel Observations.” I only post those on my “personal page” but if you want to check those out you can follow me here on Facebook or check out the hashtag #AirportApparelObservations.
  • If you are cooking my book (and especially if you are enjoying it!) please post an​ review. That sort of thing is very important and I’d greatly appreciate your help.

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

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Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis 

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Chocolate Nut Cake for Passover and Easter

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Chocolate Nut Cake for Passover and Easter

My recent travels on book tour have led me to South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Virginia, DC, and Ohio and all along the way I have been enjoying a most welcome spring. The reviews are coming in and the response to Lighten Up, Y’all has been pretty phenomenal. I’m absolutely thrilled. Amazon’s Recipe Road Test writes, “Willis is something of a miracle worker when it comes to making Southern favorites taste as good as you’d expect but made with healthier ingredients and techniques….” There are more reviews on my press page and the most satisfying experiences have been in my classes and folks sending me photos on social media. I am so thankful to be at your table!  (more…)

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Comfort Food: Grits Recipes


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Comfort Food: Grits Recipes

I love grits. I wrote a book about grits. I am a Grits Missionary. Grits are ground corn, and like many porridges, the ultimate comfort food. The difference is the kind of grit. If the only grits you have ever had came out of a paper packet and were cooked in a microwave with a coffee cup of water, of course you don’t like grits! Heal thyself with a bowl of good grits, real grits, grits with soul. The key to finding comfort and salvation in a bowl of grits is simple: use whole grain grits that taste like corn; use plenty of liquid to ensure the grains cook until they are smooth; and lastly, slowly cook grits for a long period of time to entice the natural starch from the grains so that they are rich and creamy.   (more…)

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Weeknight Broccoli Recipes … with Side Dish of Honest Truth

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I adore broccoli. It’s one of my favorite vegetables, especially in the dreary winter months. High heat roasting creates crispy bits and coaxes mild sweetness from the slightly bitter brassica. Steamed broccoli is crisp, clean, and bright. Stir-fried broccoli seems to pull the best from both of the aforementioned cooking techniques.  It’s great finely chopped raw in salads. I also peel and thinly slice the stalks for nibbles. I pretty much like broccoli any which way except overcooked to dreary mush. It’s a handy vegetable to keep in the produce bin, even if it’s not the main star, to add a flash of green to rice, farro, quinoa, or pasta. Broccoli is a great team player for other dishes. You can pretty much throw a handful into anything but ice cream and it will work!  (more…)

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Sweet Potato Recipes

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Sweet Potato

As a child, I used to think I didn’t like sweet potatoes. When I grew older, I actually realized it wasn’t that I didn’t like sweet potatoes; I didn’t like the candy-coated, marshmallow-topped “sweet potato soufflés” that are often found on the Southern table. Now, during the fall and winter months, I eat sweet potatoes at least once a week. I absolutely love them. I crave roasted sweet potatoes, topped with a judicious curl of yellow butter, the bright orange flesh adorned with a whisper of mahogany-colored pure cane syrup. I also enjoy them with a quick drizzle of pecan oil and freshly cracked black pepper, or shouting mad with a fiery hot squiggle of sriracha. In my kitchen, diced sweet potatoes find their way into mixed vegetable sautés; cloddy chunks are slow-roasted alongside other root vegetables like carrot, turnip, and rutabaga; and evenly sliced medallions are seared on both sides until burnished golden brown and finished in the oven. I’ve even turned sweet potatoes into desserts in the form of sweet potato bread pudding and old-fashioned grated sweet potato custard, yet I can assure you, there are no marshmallows to be found.  (more…)

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