Writer’s Block Pie


We’ve made it to mid-July. Summer is officially full swing.

The kids are both gone, romping around the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina making memories with their sleepaway camp buddies. The husband is hard at work in Mexico, or China, or, who knows?

Which leaves me with the dog, who appears a bit confused and deflated with having me as his only option for companionship. He deals with his disappointment by upgrading his napping schedule.

And I?

I, who am programmed to carpool, to do endless rounds of laundry, to shout commands, to check homework, to check summer work (as if!), to pick up after messes, to complain about picking up after messes, to fry eggs and scramble some too (because one likes it this way and another that way and I am far too accommodating.  I know, it will bite me in the butt later.)

I am stuck in a quiet, empty, neat house with a hebetudinous dog.


At first, I was quite useless, roaming from room to room, unsure of what to do with myself, with all this time. But by day two, I felt better.   Much better. Found myself wondering when was the last time I could sit in my office and write, uninterrupted. Ever? And I have coached my children to be sensitive to my writing needs. There’s a big bold sign I made that reads: Working! Don’t bug me!!!   My kids know they’d better be careful to go near me when that sign is up. But as trained as they are, I still have to feed them. At some point.

In mid-summer it appears my biggest responsibility as a caretaker is to make sure the dog has food and water- supply that rarely dwindles since he is busy snoozing.

With all this coveted open-ended time on my hands, you’d think I’d get right down to working on my book.  After all, I’m this close to being done with the manuscript.

Instead, I’ve been going out of my way to find new digressions, because a writer, even one gloriously stripped of family-related distractions, will always find ways to procrastinate in his/her craft.

No one said editing a weighty manuscript was sexy work.

So, there’s the cheesy films I’ve put on my Apple TV Wish List that need watching.

And the neglected garden that suddenly begs tending.

Let’s not forget re-organizing closets, that’s a stellar time suck.

Of course, there’s always the kitchen. Visits there are not really distractions, but rather, a space to process whatever literary hump I’m stuck on. As I knead dough or mince garlic my mind quietly reworks the awkward phrase that has me stumped or seeks the adjective that eludes me when I’m in the office. Usually it works, by the way. And if it doesn’t, I still win: I get a tasty treat in the end.


Today’s diversion is a twist on key lime pie. Instead of using a traditional graham cracker crust, the crust is made out of saltine crackers. I learned about this pie while listening to All Things Considered on NPR.

Another benefit to my solitary status is that I get to listen to all the NPR I want.

The pie, called Atlantic Beach Pie, is a staple of the North Carolina coast.  Because my kids happen to be in the same state being featured, I took it as a sign to step away from my keyboard and make the pie that instant.

Plus, I was having a heck of a time resolving Chapter 46 of my book.

This pie is perfect for writer’s block.

The first step requires crushing a whole bunch of saltine crackers, which, the recipe recommends you do with your hands.


Thoughts whirled as I crushed crackers and crumbs flew.

Maybe she learns to forgive him in the end?

Maybe she moves on?

Maybe she doesn’t, though. Not everything has a Hollywood ending.


Maybe I need to crush some more crackers.

Luckily the recipe is quick. There’s not enough time to rethink the plot.

When I was done, I had solved a few of the hiccups, I had just a few more to go.  My mind was at ease and I trusted I’d soon have a fabulous, final manuscript, worthy of another round of this incredibly delicious salty, sweet, simply perfect summer pie.

Atlantic Beach Pie

Atlantic Beach Pie

(adapted from Bill Smith, Crook’s Corner, featured on NPR All Things Considered)


  • For the crust:
  • 1 sleeve of saltine crackers
  • ¾ cup softened unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • For the filling:
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish
  • For the topping:
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sweetness (see below)
  • coarse sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Crush crackers to crumbs with your hands. Get in there and get down on it.
  3. Add sugar, then knead in the butter until the whole thing sticks together.
  4. Press into an 8-inch pie pan.
  5. Pop into the freezer for 10 minutes.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust starts turning golden.
  7. Meanwhile, whisk in egg yolks with the condensed milk. Add juice. Blend well.
  8. Pour into shell (the shell can be warm) and bake for 15 minutes.
  9. Make the topping:
  10. Beat ½ cup of heavy whipping cream until it forms soft peaks. Oh, I know what you’re thinking:“Why can’t I just use that canned thing from the supermarket with the pretty picture and the cool spray doohicky?” Because this is so much better, trust me. So, buckle down and beat it, it’s two minutes of your life and you’ll be happy you did it.
  11. Add a wee bit of confectioner’s sugar to the cream, if you’ve got it around, say, a tablespoon or so. If not, regular sugar will do. Or a drizzle of agave. Or maple. Oooh, maple!
  12. Once that’s all stiff upper lip, spread it on top of your pie. It doesn’t have to look all perfect. Scratch that. It shouldn’t look all perfect. We’re going with messy here. Think rough draft. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt- if you’ve got funky sea salt, like that grey Turkish pyramid stuff, that works great and is a visual conversation starter: “Hey, what are those grey specks on the pie? Is that on purpose?” “Why yes, it’s Turkish pyramid sea salt.” Well, you get the picture. The conversation can go anywhere from there. If you want to converse. Maybe you just want to eat pie, because this pie is amazing. If that’s the case, perhaps pick a white sea salt, or, go with the grey and slice and serve quickly. No nonsense like. Your call.
  13. Makes 1 pie

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