Curious Cook: Eating at my desk

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My boss at the dealership is the sales manager. His name is Andy. He is kind, funny, and very supportive of this complete car-selling neophyte. Every day his patience surprises me.

I get nervous and excited, get ahead of myself and my knowledge, leave a path of procedural carnage and chaos of policy in my wake. He cleans up after me, corrects my errors, and gently points out where I’ve gone wrong and lessons I should remember.

There is one area though, in which we have common ground, and meet as equals: our devotion to that classic, singular sandwich, the peanut butter and jelly. And we share a firm commitment to the vertical, rather than diagonal cleaving of those sandwiches. A PBJ may be a majestic marvel of food, but it is also ubiquitously both humble and homey, thus the honest, fitting rectangulation of slice.

Our approach, though, couldn’t be more different.

Andy has a time-tested recipe that has developed over years of delicious trial and error. It never varies, because to his palate, he has discovered the best, and only, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

On the other hand, I am an unabashed, uber enthusiastic dabbler. I construct my PBJ’s according to whim. Am I feeling sweet yet spicy? My sandwich is sun butter (made from sunflower seeds) and homemade root beer jelly. Have I had a bad day need a culinary hug? Plain apple jelly and the best and creamiest peanut butter (IMHO), Reese’s. Sometimes I want something light-colored, so I turn to peach or apricot. Occasionally I feel like the adventure of travel and use marionberry from the great Northwest, or maybe lingonberry from Sweden.

Andy generously offered me half of his sandwich to experience, “The ultimate peanut butter and jelly.”

When I told him it was pretty good, he looked as stricken as if I had questioned his parentage and kicked his puppy.

“I thought we were friends…”

I’m pretty sure he was joking.

All of this brown-bag angst made me think about lunching at work.

The dealership has a two-tiered generational staff. There are young guys, in their early to late 20s. These guys haven’t yet discovered budgeting or their mortality. So, almost to a man (and they are all male), they go for fast food. The dealership is located within a nexus of drive-through, take-out, and delivery options.

These sweet dumb guys have apps from most of these joints on most of their phones.

The more mature members of the staff have learned the wisdom and efficacy of bringing something from home. It’s usually healthier, cheaper, and made completely to the taste of the diner.

My watermelon-decorated lunch box has been in almost constant use. I strive for big flavor and healthy. I want to look forward to unzipping that bag every day. Peanut butter and jelly has made numerous appearances, but the sandwich has been different every time. Noosa yogurt cups and crispy graham crackers for dipping are also frequent meals.

But lately, I’ve been bringing a sandwich that’s so fancy it demands to be sliced on the diagonal. But it’s really easy and very inexpensive (under $4 for the whole thing inexpensive), because the amount of imported, gourmet ingredients is practically minuscule.

Whether you venture out into the world each day or WFH, make a lunch that makes you happy.

Treat yo’ self.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at

Andy’s Ultimate PBJ

Skippy Natural Chunky Peanut Butter

Smuckers Red Raspberry Jam

Cinnamon bread

Spread peanut butter and jelly onto untoasted bread, with a 2:1 ratio of peanut butter to jelly. Cut into two rectangles.

Claim to have made the world’s best PBJ and then eat it.

Root Beer Jelly

1/2 bottle or can of your favorite root beer

18-ounce jar of apple jelly

1 teaspoon root beer concentrate

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

Put the root beer in a heavy pot and cook on a boil until it’s thickened to a syrupy consistency. Add jelly and cook until it’s smooth and thickened slightly (it will get thicker as it cools). Stir in concentrate, vanilla and salt. Take off heat and let sit until it’s cool enough to pour into a jar. Keep refrigerated.

*Makes a delicious ham glaze and adds unexpected flavor to barbecue sauce.

Debbie’s Fancy Ham Sammich

Whole grain bread (I like Sarah Lee Delightful)

Imported Tyrolian Speck or Italian Prosciutto sliced so thin you can see through it, literally.

Lacy Swiss cheese, also sliced very thinly

French salted butter

Tomato marmalade (I love Trader Joe’s)

Spread an incredibly thin layer of butter on both slices of bread. On one side spread about 1-1½ teaspoon tomato jam onto butter on one side only.

Drape 2-3 slices of ham on one slice. Cover with one slice of cheese. Cover with the other slice of bread. Cut into two triangles. Wrap snugly in parchment then plastic wrap.

Keep refrigerated until eating — you want the butter firm.


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