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When life gives you lemon bars…

Here’s something you don’t see every day on the internet or social media:  the unfiltered truth. 

May has been a really rough month for me, emotionally.  I won’t delve into detail, but many days have found me counting down the hours til bedtime, when I can collapse, play a few games of solitaire, and turn off reality. These are the days when I lack the emotional energy even to read a good book.

In fact, I almost didn’t post this month, because the thought of trying to be light and witty and when my dominant emotions have been sadness, resentment and, my least favorite, envy, felt like an insurmountable challenge. But I made a New Year’s resolution to post once a month, and my stubbornness trumps depression every time.

So here’s what I’ve got for May, just under the wire. 

In times like these, I find myself returning to two lessons from very wise men. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

The first comes from Father Sam Buice, the former priest of Grace Calvary Episcopal Church in Clarkesville, Georgia, where my family attends service when we’re at our farm. Our last visit corresponded with Sam’s last sermon before retirement, and his parting words to his beloved congregation hit me right between the eyes and brought instant tears:  “Be careful of grasping your expectations so tightly that you don’t see the blessings you’ve been given.” Damn. If I were 30 years younger, I’d probably have this tattooed on my forearm in a pretty cursive font, because I need to be reminded of it every. Single. Day.  I might even take it a step further:  Expectations are the sworn enemy of happiness.  I don’t know about you, but I find that joy almost never flows from things going exactly as I planned, but rather from gifts that have rained down on me unexpectedly. And yes, even in this tempore horribilis, I am drenched in blessings, from morning Nespresso on the back porch, to my son’s recent graduation from college.

The second lesson comes from my grandfather, John Walsh, who died in 1961, 5 years before I was born.  The handsome husband and father of two – my beloved mother and her younger brother, Jack – was stricken in the prime of life by multiple sclerosis. Decades before the ADA, the promising young accountant was forced to leave his job at US Steel–he couldn’t make it up the stairs to his office–and he lived out his days sitting on the front porch of the family’s modest row house outside Pittsburgh. My grandmother returned to work as a secretary at the steel mill, to make ends meet. My mother became the family chef, and her football player brother would lift my grandfather in and out of bed, and help him to the bathroom.

From the front porch, my grandfather entertained frequent visits from neighbors and friends, who, noting his rapid physical decline, couldn’t help but express their sympathy for his misfortune.  Though we never met, I can almost hear his response, so often has my mother repeated the story.  “Well, Jimmy, you don’t have to look very far to find someone less fortunate than you are.”  John Walsh had a roof over his head, good food to eat, and a family who loved him. He was a rich man.

What all of this has to do with lemon bars is, well, very little, except maybe that I do find myself baking more often when times get tough.  I count my blessings that even on the worst day, some butter, flour sugar, eggs and chocolate combine to make a heavenly pan of brownies; that even when gloom descends, buttermilk wisked into flour and eggs makes the fluffiest pancakes; and that lemon and sugar create the perfect foil in these delectable lemon bars.

Originally from a Junior League of Austin cookbook, this version has double the lemon goo as the original recipe.  Feel free to omit the icing; this is the Pegster’s preference.  But I needed extra sugar this month.

Friends, when life gives you lemons, let loose your expectations, stay the heck off social media, and make lemon bars.

Lemon bars

Recipe by Betsy OwensCourse: Baking, Desserts


Prep time


Cooking time



Adapted from a Junior League of Austin cookbook, this version has double the lemon goo as the original recipe.  Feel free to omit the icing.


  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 cup softened butter

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

  • 5 eggs

  • 6 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

  • 1 Tbs. grated lemon rind

  • 2 cups sugar
    5 Tbs. flour

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • Icing:
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened

  • 1 Tbs. milk

  • 3/4 c. powdered sugar


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Using electric mixer, cream together 2 c. flour, 1 cup butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar.
  • Press evenly into a lightly greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake 16 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, beat together eggs, lemon juice, lemon rind, 2 cups granulated sugar, 5 Tbs. flour and baking powder.
  • Pour egg mixture over baked first layer. Return to oven. Bake about 25 minutes, or until set. Cool.
  • Combine ingredients for icing and wisk until smooth. Spread on cooled lemon bars. Cut into squares and serve. Stores well in fridge.

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