Easter Dinner: April “Country Living” on the Stands! Sunday, Mar 13 2011 

Wow. That’s all I have to say.

Well, that’s not true. I also have to say thank you. Lots and lots of thank yous.

Many thanks to Country Living Magazine and Monica Willis (no relation!) for asking me to be a part of this special issue. I am so grateful to Jona and the rest of my family for allowing their Easter dinner to be transformed into a photo shoot last year, thank you to my aunts and cousins for helping with the food, thank you to Gene, Kathy, and Meghan for opening their home, thanks to Gena Berry for her assistance, delicious thanks to Robert at Melissa’s Produce for helping with the ingredient sourcing, thank you to Heather, Harry, and John for making such beautiful photos, and lastly, but by far not the least, thanks to my Mama for all her love and support.

I told her it was TEN pages. She asked me where the rest of it was. I reminded her the magazine wasn’t titled Virginia Willis’s Country Living.

Here’s the full Country Living Easter Dinner article and here are the recipes.

I am so honored and thrilled to be the subject and also the author of the piece, a little written ramble about cherished childhood memories, my abhorrence of dotted Swiss, and sunrise service at Riverview Methodist church. It’s about how my family’s Easter menu has evolved and changed, but much of it remains true to the Easter Sunday dinners of my youth and the memory of my grandparents.

And this year? This spring I look forward to starting new traditions of family celebration and expanding the circle of sharing with people I love. Spring is after all, about shedding the old and celebrating newness and rebirth. It’s the perfect time for new lives and fresh starts.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS Click and read here, too, but help keep print alive my buying one at the newsstand. That is if Mama left you any. I think she’s gathered enough to wallpaper the spare room she’s so proud.

Easter Menu

Sliced Radishes with Horseradish Buttermilk Dip
Baked Fresh Ham with Herbes de Provence
Spiced Sweet Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus with Tangerines, Roasted Spring Vidalia Onions, Parmesan Grits with Morels
Buttermilk Angel Biscuits
Turbinado Shortcakes with Strawberries and Whipped Cream

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Birds and the Bees: Springtime in the South Tuesday, Apr 6 2010 

Spring tulip on a dewey morning in a dear friend’s garden.

Atlanta is glorious in spring. My windows are open; I hear the buzz of the bees, the lilting song of the birds, and the breeze gently waving in the trees. Earlier today it was a swirling snowstorm of pink blossoms when a bold gust of wind jostled the cherry trees, the petals cavorting in the wind. I watched a brilliant red male cardinal dash and dart among the budding hydrangea, flitting and flirting with his amorous choice of desire, a more subdued female. The daffodils and forsythia are bursting with color so yellow it’s positively garish. I’ve brought some of the flowers inside to enjoy and their sweetness fills the air. Atlanta is glorious in spring.

I was recently fortunate enough to shoot Easter with Country Living for spring of 2011. Some of the recipes will be in my next book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all. It was hosted by my sweet dear cousins Gene and Kathy Waites, at their lovely home in Fort Valley. Kathy took some snaps of the shoot itself, and I thought I would share.

Many thanks to them for their generous hospitality — and to my family, too for putting up with me.

Enjoy the photos and there’s a little recipe at the end, too.

Mama and I – She’s positive the pot likker shots need salt and I am a bit amused….

Tools of the Trade: Q-tips can be your best friend.

The Team at Work – It’s pretty amazing how different it looks in “real life” and how it transforms in the lens.

Behind the Scenes – but Mama, ahem, still thinks the pot likker needs salt….

Our Easter Buffet -Heather and Barb orchestrated an amazing spectacle.

Camera envy!!

Messing around with Mama and her Ben Franks!

Yes, undoubtedly I am a Mama’s girl, just in case you were wondering.
I love my Mama. She and my sister came down early for the shoot to help me out.

Life is good. Spring is glorious.
I am so happy and very thankful for my many, many blessings

Bon Appétit, Y’all
Virginia ‘

Here’s a recipe that I shared with Whole Foods Market last spring I thought you might enjoy.

Makes 2 dozen

Asparagus is a member of the Lily family and the spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soil. It’s harvested in the spring and it’s amazing to see – the spears literally grow straight out of the earth. The first time I saw this was at the beautiful kitchen gardens at Jefferson’s Monticello. When shopping for asparagus look for firm, fresh, spears with closed, compact tips and uniform diameter, so that all spears will cook in the same amount of time.

Meme loved asparagus, which she called “asparagus salad,” although there wasn’t anything to preparing it other than opening the familiar shiny silver can. Even though I know the flavor of canned asparagus (really, there isn’t any) cannot compare to freshly cooked, I enjoy that taste memory.

The ends of fresh asparagus can be tough and woody. I prefer to slice off the last inch or two of the stem instead of snapping it off where the spear breaks naturally. Not only is it more visually appealing when all the spears are exactly the same size, but they will also cook at the same rate.

24 asparagus spears
12 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, preferably black
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a shallow skillet of salted water to the boil. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, 2 –3 minutes. Drain and plunge into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Remove the asparagus when cool and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Pat dry and set aside.

Heat the oven to 450° with the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat (non-stick silicon baking sheet) or parchment paper; set aside.

Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough on a clean dry surface. Keep the remaining sheets covered with a clean, slightly damp towel. Brush phyllo lightly with melted butter and top with a second sheet of phyllo. Brush again with butter. Cut into 4 rectangular pieces, each about 5 x 7-inches.

Arrange a spear of asparagus on the short end of the phyllo rectangle, letting the tip lay exposed beyond the top edge by a half inch or so. Roll up and secure the edge of the dough with additional butter, if necessary. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients, transferring to the prepared baking sheet. The straws may be made up to 1 to 2 hours ahead at this point, covered with plastic wrap and kept refrigerated.

Cover the tips of the asparagus with a piece of aluminum foil to protect them from the heat. Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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