Back in the late 80s or early 90s, I began ironically referring to sandwiches as “sammiches.” It seemed to me that “sandwich” was entirely too posh and tightly laced a word for what I meant and wanted from meals comprising two or more pieces of bread and delicious fillings of various sorts. A really good sammich, in my view, was stuffed to bursting, difficult to eat because of its sheer un-scalable heights, and very messy. It was sensuous the way William Carlos Williams’s plums* are, but more so. Eating a sammich was only worth doing if it promised to dislocate one’s jaw and ruin one’s clothing.

I’m not sure when my use of the word sammich to describe this classic luncheon meal stopped being ironic and became unconscious. But I actually find it difficult now not to say “sammich,” even in polite company. I appear to have truly integrated my own theory about a good sammich existing simultaneously along the borders of both the pre-verbal and the post-dictional; it is the most egregious linguistic error I regularly commit without noticing. And when I refer to sammiches, in any context, you can be sure there’s an implied exclamation point attached to it.

When I was a teenager, I worked one of the shittiest part-time, teenager jobs going here in Canada: coffee hag at Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons, if you’re not from around here, is a crappy coffee/donut chain, like Dunkin Donuts but lamer. The coffee tastes and feels like a kick in the face and the donuts appeal to your baser instincts, but not the fun ones. Nothing they serve there is okay at all. I worked at this horrible place, wearing a horrible uniform, getting 2 15-minute breaks (if I was lucky) during my 8-hour shifts, serving up shit to people who like shit for one terrible summer.

While I was there (twas the horrific summer of 1993—I was zitty and bored; also, broken-hearted as the result of being recently dumped), they engaged in Innovation: they started selling sandwiches. As I recall, there were two kinds, both involving deli meats. The only instructions we were given included the ingredients of each kind of sandwich, not how much of anything, and so I made the best goddamn sammiches in the world. Customers loved them; people started to look alive again. I made these sammiches the way I would want to eat them—gigantic, intimidating, over-filling, precarious.

In a total win re: management to employee communication, the one and only company response to these increasingly popular giant sammiches was the posting of signs in the back room/kitchen saying “TO WHOEVER IS STEALING THE LUNCH MEATS: YOU WILL BE CAUGHT AND YOU WILL BE CHARGED.” Seriously. I quietly began making sandwiches that sucked and nothing bad happened to me; I also quit, without any regret whatsoever, when it was time to begin university that September.

Tim Hortons doesn’t respect sammiches, and so you shouldn’t give them your money under any circumstances.

I estimate I’ve eaten thousands of sammiches in my life; I don’t know how many thousands, but if I only averaged 2 per week for life thus far, that would be 4,000—and some weeks, I’ve eaten a sammich every beautiful day. I know from sammiches, and let me tell you something Very Important: going on a picnic is a 5-star event with me. You can’t have a picnic without sammiches, and you can’t have a great picnic without several different kinds of sammiches. Carrot-tahini sammiches and chickpea hijiki (or nori) salad sammiches are the very best picnic meals, especially when accompanied by grapes and plums for dessert.

The ancient discipline of sammich is one that demands to be practiced, especially now that spring is really here and eating while sprawled out on blankets under trees has increased in both likelihood and desirability by about a trillion percent. Practice it, my friends, practice it. And feel free to report back with your best sammich recipes.

Two of my (other) favourite sammiches:

The Smoked Tofu Juggernaut


  • Two slices multi-grain Big Toast
  • Four thick slices smoked tofu
  • Half a tomato, sliced
  • Half a ripe avocado, sliced thin
  • Handful mixed greens
  • Grainy Dijon mustard


Toast bread. Fry tofu till blistering. Mash and spread avocado over toast, and add mustard to taste. Stack everything. Roar.

Fried Polenta Sammich


  • Two slices of good bread (I like kamut for this one)
  • Three thick slices of polenta, homemade or store-bought, fried till soft and sort of translucent
  • 1/3 sweet red bell pepper, very thinly sliced, left raw—you want your sammich to have a good crunch
  • Mayonnaise or garlicky cream cheeze
  • Mustard


Toast the bread. Layer the ingredients. Eat, and only eat; it’s dangerous and irresponsible to try to read and eat this sammich simultaneously.

*“This is Just to Say”

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

11 Comments Add yours

  1. heidenkind says:

    In my opinion, you can’t have a picnic without champagne and cold fried chicken. But I have never gone on a picnic, so my opinion’s not worth much.

    1. Colleen says:

      You’ve never gone on a picnic??? Dear gawd, why, WHY??

      1. heidenkind says:

        My mom doesn’t believe in picnics. And I’ve never had any other opportunity. 😦

  2. Jean Melvin says:

    First read “This Is just to Say”‘ to a Grade 4 class in the East End of Vancouver. It was the late ’60’s. They loved it! Found this piece in a collection called “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle”. I am going upstairs to dig it out right now. Thanks for the memory, time warp prod!


    1. Colleen says:

      That sounds like a pretty damned cool grade 4 class…I didn’t come across this poem until I was in the last year of my undergraduate degree!

  3. I worked at Howard Johnson for my last year of high school. I can relate to the environment; nothing like all you can eat clam and fish fries on Fridays.

    I will try the sammiches, though.

    1. Colleen says:

      Working at Howard Johnson sounds delightful. Given the kinds of jobs we all had while still in school, it’s rather cruel to tell teens this is the best time of their life, don’t you think?

      1. Stress of school, clicks, permanent records, guidance counselors, bad jobs…made joining the Marines seem like a vacation

  4. J.G. says:

    The synergy between the recipes and the poem is just right! I think it’s the “roar” part that makes it work. Yum.

    1. Colleen says:

      A well-placed roar is always a good choice I think. 🙂

  5. Colleen says:

    Heidenkind: Dang. It is my wish that 2013 becomes your Year of the Picnic. Even if it’s just in the backyard. 🙂

    Evil Cyclist: That’s wild…I think it’s a universal truth that the teen years are a pile of poo.

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