In Celebration of Lunch Breaks

Today’s lunch: a good book, a yummy sandwich, and some spicy soup.

In my former life, I worked a 9-5 desk job as an administrative assistant at a law firm. It was a nice company, on the smaller side and full of potential energy, on the cusp of a growth spurt that has proven beneficial for the company. Every day, I got to work a few minutes before nine, ate breakfast at my desk while I checked email and made my to-do list for the day. Around 12:30 or 1:00, I took my “lunch break.” It’s in quotes because I usually ate lunch at my desk as well. My “lunch break” was a time for me to drive down the street to the Barnes & Noble and walk the aisles, sliding my fingers along the spines of books, grabbing a coffee, or sitting in the cafe reading. In these “lunch breaks,” I visited my old life, the one where my job was to read and write and study craft, the one where my aspiration was to become a published author.

It was a nice job for a good company, a company I still work for on a contract basis. But it wasn’t for me. And my “lunch breaks” weren’t meant for eating lunch; they were meant for escaping, for taking short peeks back into my former life. To pine for the old days when I spent time reading and writing and drinking coffee and cooking when it pleased me, when it could help me break through writer’s block.

I left that job almost two years ago to retreat back into academe. I happily spend three days a week teaching classes to college freshmen, lecturing on punctuation and rhetorical modes and leading students in writing activities to develop their abilities to write like academics. On the other two days in the week, I try to write and catch up on things at home. I cook and blog and do laundry. I try not to grade, but when it overtakes me, I grade and plan lessons.

Spicy butternut squash soup

One of the biggest perks of my job is those two days away from campus each week. On those days, I try to make the most of my time, and that includes making a big, beautiful lunch. Back in my law firm days, I ate peanut butter and jelly and carrot sticks and Wheat Thins – the kind of food that says “I’m poor and sort of on a diet.” These nutritional lunches I brought from home were punctuated by bagels or Chick-fil-A salads. They were eaten at my desk, taking bites between packaging warrants or other documents. I’m very lucky now to have a job that allows me to work from home two days a week, to make my own schedule and stay in jeans or pajamas and hang out with the cat while I work. Very, very lucky.

I enjoy the ability to be creative and have fun with lunch on my days off, to make something a bit more time-consuming than I would on a regular work day, to take my time eating, to read a book or a magazine or stare out the window at the backyard. I slow down for a little while, feed my stomach and my mind and my heart with whatever in our fridge has inspired me on that day.

And I think that’s the beautiful thing about lunch. It’s a mid-day meal, usually not as well-planned as dinner or as perfunctory as breakfast. You can go with your whims or inspiration. It can be light or heavy. It can be sweet or savory. The rules are fewer. The rewards can turn a crappy morning to a brighter afternoon. And I’m not alone in this feeling. One of my favorite “This I Believe” essays I’ve ever read is called “Time for Lunch,” a defense of enjoying the daily lunch break.

Today, I reheated spicy butternut squash soup, added a bit of yogurt to it, and I made a grilled turkey and prosciutto sandwich, a sandwich I’ve now made twice and intend to just keep making until I get sick of it. I’ve been making grilled sandwiches every chance I get lately, taking full advantage of the wonderful buttery toast that comes from grilling sandwiches in my cast-iron skillet. This sandwich uses homemade sourdough bread and homemade fig jam, both recipes previously featured on my blog. It’s a salty, delicious sandwich, buttery and with a sweet note from the jam. I’ve paired it with fruit, salad, and the soup, and I think it’ll go with anything.

Grilled Turkey and Prosciutto Sandwich

2 slices sourdough bread (any bread will due, though)

Butter for spreading

Goat cheese for spreading (I used chevre)

Fig jam (apple butter could be a nice substitute, I think)

3 slices smoked turkey

2 slices prosciutto

Grilled turkey and prosciutto sandwich with goat cheese and fig jam.

1. Butter two slices of sourdough bread. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.

2. Spread the other side of one of the slices of bread with fig jam. Lay the slice of bread butter-side down in the skillet. Layer with the slices of turkey and prosciutto.

3. Spread the other side of the remaining slice of bread with goat cheese, and place it on top of the sandwich, cheese-side down.

4. Toast the sandwich over medium heat 3-5 minutes or until toasty. Flip the sandwich carefully and toast 3-5 minutes more, until the bread reaches desired shade of golden brown.

5. Remove from the skillet and let rest a minute or two before slicing in half.

Whether at home or at the office, whether you made it yourself or you purchased it from a local restaurant, what is your favorite lunch? 

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