Lighter Lemon Squares (and Why I Bought a Stranger a Pie)

As I hurried across the street, I saw her approaching from half of a block away. Reflexively, I looked down, doing what I sometimes do when things get uncomfortable. Face the ground. Ignore what is so clearly right in front of me.

Homelessness, poverty. hunger.

As she got closer, moving in my direction, I forced myself to look up, to make eye contact. I said hello.

She thrust a fist containing a few small coins toward me, pleading.

“Got any spare change so I can get a little something to eat?” She asked, smiling with a mouth that lacked much in the way of teeth.

She was frail with a close crop of greying hair, a filthy backpack slung over her shoulder, and a look about her that suggested addiction.

I paused, “I’d be happy to buy you something to eat.?” I replied, never sure what the right thing to do is here. That struggle between giving her what she wants yet not wanting to hand over money that may well pay for a bottle of booze.

She fidgeted. She also needed bus fare, she said.

I paused again.

“We could get you something in the market. It’s right there,” I said, gesturing to the corner.

“Okay,” she finally nodded. “Okay, that’s good.”

We crossed the street and headed inside.

“What do you feel like?” I asked. “A sandwich?”

She looked around.

“I’d like something sweet,” She replied, bobbing her head up and down as she headed for the bakery section.

Something sweet? I found myself thinking, the practical me, the dietitian in me, judging. The last thing this woman needs is dessert.

I followed her to a counter lined with baked goods. She took in the offerings, finally resting her hand on a bakery box that housed a pie.

A whole pie.

“Lemon meringue pie?” I asked, “That’s what you’d like?”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “I’d like a pie.”

I hestitated. All she wanted was a few quarters and now I’m in for an entire pie.

“Do you maybe want something from the cafe instead?” I asked, pointing to the coffee bar laden with cookies and scones.”

“No. This is good,” she said.

So I picked up the pie and we headed for the cash register. Lacking the cash to pay for a pie, I handed my credit card to the owner of the market, who was taking in the scene before her. I signed for the pie, picked up a plastic fork, and handed them both to the woman.

“Ah,” she whispered, “Thank you,“

“You’re welcome,” I replied.

As I turned away, I felt strange. A little swindled, perhaps, and at the same time, sad about the inadequacy of a$22 pie for someone who needs so much more.

But as I kept walking, I found myself imagining this woman heading down the sidewalk with her pie and fork. Where was she going? Would she share her pie? And the extravagance, the total impracticality, of choosing pie when you have nothing else.

I shook my head. Then went home to bake.

Lighter Lemon Squares

While not quite lemon meringue pie, these lemon squares deliver the tangy sweet taste and buttery crust that are the hallmarks of that pie. The fact that each square weighs in at just 124 calories, is certainly part of the appeal. Feel free to use slivered almonds in place of pinenuts, or get experimental, as I did, and use salted rosemary roasted Marcona almonds instead (thank you Trader Joe's).


  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts , toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter , cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Place flour, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, pine nuts, and salt in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Add butter and canola oil. Pulse 3 to 5 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Place mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray; press into bottom of pan.
  3. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 325°.
  4. Combine granulated sugar and next 5 ingredients (through egg white) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Pour mixture over crust.
  5. Bake at 325° for 20 minutes or until set. Remove from oven, and cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
  6. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle squares evenly with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.

Recipe and photo reprinted with permission from Cooking Light. Photo credit: Randy Mayor.


10.14.2014 at6:51 AM #


that’s a tough situation. i like the way you handled it.
looks a like a good recipe too,
thanks katie.

10.14.2014 at6:51 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks Yunah….something we face almost every day in SF and I’m always uncomfortable, no matter how I respond. It was convenient that day to have Canyon Market within easy reach. And they do make an excellent pie.

10.14.2014 at11:30 AM #

Jessica @ Nutritioulicious

Such a difficult situation. Kudos for you for handling it the way you did. And I love how you used the situation as inspiration for your cooking!

10.14.2014 at11:30 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks Jessica. Strange where we find inspiration sometimes!

10.14.2014 at8:28 PM #


So genuine and inspiring. I bet you were the first person in a very long time who looked her in the eye and asked her opinion about what she might prefer, rather than just throw some change in her hand. I imagine that was $22 well spent.

10.14.2014 at8:28 PM #

Katie Morford

Thanks Carine. No regrets on buying the pie, that’s for certain.

10.15.2014 at9:52 AM #

erin {yummy supper}

Katie, I totally get your conundrum and hers. If I were seriously down on my luck and hungry… a pie would be pretty satisfying.
And your lemon squares would do the trick for me too…. they look delish!

10.15.2014 at9:52 AM #

Katie Morford

I agree, Erin. Pie is comfort. Mine would be chocolate, though. 🙂

10.21.2014 at4:11 AM #


these look amazing! thanks for sharing!

10.21.2014 at4:11 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks Rachel. And super easy to make too!

12.09.2021 at5:55 PM #

Kathy Laws

Could another nut be substituted for the pine nuts? I enjoy your recipes.


12.09.2021 at5:55 PM #

Katie Morford

Absolutely. I think almonds, pecans, or walnuts would all work.

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