Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let's talk about sandwiches, baby

The Sandwich.

For some mundane. For others exhilarating. What images does "sandwich" conjure up for you? What emotions does it spur?

Over the years sandwiches have rarely excited me. I can think of a couple exceptions, but most often it was PB&J here, plain ham there. I do remember eras when I downed grilled cheese sandwiches by the bakers dozen due to their sheer greasy palatability, but generally for me sandwiches were boring.

Not anymore!

It may surprise you, but I didn't wake up one morning with a glorious vision of how my sandwich experience would be revolutionized. It was only after months, even years of gradual and sometimes imperceptible changes in the constitution of my sandwiches that I suddenly realized, "I used to be bored by sandwiches, now they thrill me!"

So how did it happen? After many hours of pondering, the only way I can think to explain it is by describing the six sandwich phases that I've passed through. All of this has occurred in the past 2.5 years since moving to Arizona. These phases, in ways that at times boggle the mind, have brought me to my present state of sandwich bliss.

The Phases
1. The BBQ sauce phase.
2. The bell pepper phase.
3. The Subway phase.
4. The mustard phase.
5. The onion phase.
6. The pineapple phase.

Confused? Let me explain:

Phase 1. the BBQ sauce phase
I used to think all a sandwich needed was BBQ sauce. When I started bringing sandwiches for lunch here at med school, I brought them with just ham and BBQ sauce. I liked them at first like I always had, but they just didn't have enough ingredients and I got tired of it. I was bored.

Phase 2. The bell pepper phase
Shortly after the BBQ sauce phase I started making a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches with red bell pepper slices in the sandwich-maker my first landlady owned. Learning how good those bell peppers tasted on the sandwiches began to soften my heart and prepare a fertile ground for learning about other sandwich condiments. Nonetheless, it was not long before these sandwiches too were, you guessed it...boring.

Phase 3. The Subway Phase
For the first 24 or so years of my life I was cheapskate enough that Subway was out of my price range. This changed in the past few years both because I stopped being so fanatically frugal and because I started being more health conscious. And with the advent of the five-dollar foot-long, my Subway consumption peaked last Summer at an average of about four sandwiches per week. Not only did I become a master of the nuances of ordering Subway sandwiches, this is when my eyes were opened to the wonders of vegetables as sandwich condiments. That's why this phase could also be called the vegetable phase.

Phase 4. The mustard phase
As I was eating Subway sandwiches and continuing to largely flounder in my own efforts at creating a viable sandwich, I made an alarming discovery: mustard. That's right, much as Ben Franklin discovered electricity and Columbus discovered America, I discovered mustard. And in a similarly monumental manner to the effect of their discoveries, discovering mustard changed my sandwiches forever. You see, I'm not talking about your average every-day mustard. I'm talking about Great Value Southwest Spicy Mustard, and I'm talking about Great Value Honey Mustard. You can find them at Wal-Mart. When used in concert, these two mustards are all the sauce a sandwich needs. And ever since I started using these mustards, my sandwiches have not been boring.

Phase 5. Onion Phase: It's really quite silly that the onion phase should even exist. I should have known about the impact of onions ever since the Subway phase, if not before. I think my hangup was, even though I knew onions were good, I didn't realize how striking an impact they could have on my sandwiches, nor did I comprehend their ease of use. When I finally did start using onions consistently on my sandwiches, the immediate positive impact was astounding.

Phase 6. The pineapple phase: The pineapple phase is really another name for the tomato phase. I have always loved tomatoes on sandwiches, but in years past didn't get around to buying them, often beccause of the aforementioned cheapskatishness from which I for so long suffered. Well, over the past year I've started buying tomatoes a lot more often, and I've been kicking myself the whole time for not doing so sooner. After falling in love all over again with tomatoes on my sandwiches, one day I found my kitchen devoid of tomatoes and I had to scramble. So I thought, what makes tomatoes good on sandwiches? Mostly it's because they're sweet, thick, and juicy. So it logically follows that other things that are also sweet, thick, and juicy could also be really good on a sandwich. The first time this happened I used orange slices as my replacement(surprisingly good, by the way), and more recently I tried pineapple. Now I sometimes use both tomatoes and pineapple on the same sandwich! There's almost too much sweetness, thickness, and juiciness to go around!

It's been a long hard road, and I'm sure more discoveries await, but I can now say that I am fully entrenched in a love affair with sandwiches. The sandwiches I now make incorporate all of the crystallized principles that can be derived from the phasic progression described above. And they are truly glorious!

How to build the sandwich, from bottom to top:

1. Good-quality whole-wheat bread, toasted
2. Thin layer of low-fat mayonnaise on bottom slice only (optional)
3. Three or four slices of Premium Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast (or turkey)
4. Plentiful Onion slices
5. Great Value Honey Mustard and Southwest Spicy Mustard, in perpendicular criss-cross patterns
6. Tomato slices, providing full coverage
7. Pineapple (optional, or in place of tomatoes)

Also try: olives, mushrooms, bell peppers

I might not believe it if I hadn't experienced it personally, but it's actually quite difficult to overstate how good these sandwiches are. Let me try: They're the best sandwiches ever made in the whole world! Ok, that may be going a little bit overboard. What I will say, with no reservations, is that the sandwiches I make and eat today are not boring. I'm excited!

Excuse me while I go make a sandwich.


  1. Wow. You have nearly converted me to sandwhich-ism with this post.

  2. Mike- You weren't before?
    Ben- Great, now I feel the need to clean up my whole blogging act... curse you! :)

  3. I am eating a sandwich right now. You will be contributing to my obesity, and I imagine my girlfriend will dislike you. :-P Jk. You're in medical school?

  4. Wow. You actually made sandwiches and then took their pictures! I am laughing a bit. Very entertaining. I want to know how you were different 2 years ago?

  5. Mmmmm. I see now why it took you so long to post this. This isn't just a blog posting. It's a masterpiece---the sandwich AND the blog post.

  6. Ben . . . you've done it again! Over and over you show that you are not afraid of living your life to the fullest! I can see that you have taken great risks and earned great rewards. Sir, you are an inspiration. (I'm Luke by the way)

  7. I don't think I could survive the consumption of your fancy sandwiches.

  8. I am glad to see another sandwich connoisseur. I have always loved sandwiches and the creation thereof. As you have found, one of the most amazing ingredients for a really good sandwich is a tomato that is ripe, juicy and full-flavored. A dash of salt and pepper on the tomato goes a long way. Sadly, all tomatoes are not created equally and not all are good for sandwiches. An unripe, bland, and juiceless tomato can kill a sandwich. Thank you for sharing your sandwich story. It was entertaining.

  9. Ben did you know we share this obsession!? Yes it is true. I LOVE sandwiches. Although I have never tried pineapple and black olives.. it looks delicious!!! i love it!!
    Some of my favorites are A-1 sauce, honey mustard, pepper (it has to have lots of pepper) black olives cucumbers with canned chicked, thinly sliced tomatoes-they stay in better, and mozzerella cheese. YUM!! We should have a sandwich-off

  10. Ben i was taken back when i heard that your cheapskatedness is now a thing of the past. No longer will I have to live with that crushing guilt that has followed me since I first knew you. No more will I have to think, "Ben could have done this cheaper." I was also surprised to hear of your supposed discovery of onions. We both know that you have consumed more onions than anyone else we know. I recall the time we decided to live off of nothing but a 35 pound bag of potatoes and a 25 pound bag of onions. I think that lasted about a day or two for me. I was dating Alicia at the time and she hated how i smelt like fried potatoes and onions all the time. But i remember you did it!! I think I gained a new respect for you dedication andd thrift. To this day I still don't know how you did it. Incredible! This new health craze you are a part of is interesting and inspiring. But it appears your sandwiches are fried? Is this true?

    I will have to try using pineapple more. But does it really work with Mustard? I'm curious and i will try it. I only have three other comments about the great blog:
    1. I suggest chedddar cheese, cucumbers, mung bean sprouts, spinach and pickles (Bread and butter chips are always best.)
    2. Are you one offthose people who believe that mayonaise would beat Miracle Whip in a cage fight?
    3. My life has also been positively transformed by the five dollar foot long. But every silver lining has a touch of gray. I was in Austin Texas last week and ate a foot long Subway meatball sub every day for five days. This resulted in major gastrointestinal consequences. Beware of my Five Dollar Fate.

  11. MMmm... you keep giving me great ideas for food... Which reminds me, I think I'm hungry...
    Keep blogging!

  12. This was hilarious and super fun to read. You know what I have recently (like 2 years ago) discovered that I LOVE LOVE LOVE on sandwiches? Guacamole and Cilantro. Can you go wrong with those two things? Or just Avacado and Cilantro, with some Tomato and onion...It's like Pico de Gallo on bread. Deliciosa.

  13. I agree with previous commenters...it's time to move to the cucumber and avacado phase.

  14. I really appreciate all the input from all of you. Your suggestions are many and I want to try them all. Here's a little update on my sandwich experiences:
    -I've switched to red onions at the suggestion of Amanda, and they're actually a lot better! -I was already using avocado, which i really love, periodically even before i wrote the blog. I continue to do so.
    -I put salt and pepper on sometimes now, and it is nice.
    -I've tried both Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese on sandwiches, I like both, but I don't make a habit of it because I'm trying to go healthy for the most part
    -I get cucumbers and spinach sometimes at subway, and I think they're good but not great. I may change my position on this.
    -I'm yet to try cilantro, A-1 sauce, or mung bean sprouts but I plan to. They sound good!
    -I'm the kind of guy who only likes pickles on tuna fish. I mean, I LOVE pickles on tuna sandwiches, but for some reason on anything else I only kinda sorta like pickles.

    Also, I believe you can have too much tangy zip in your life and I will try to limit my Five-dollar comsumption to no more than three consecutive days. :)

    And yes, Sach Master, I'm in (podiatric) medical school.