It started innocently enough.
A few weeks ago, we had a picnic at the beach. Some good friends decided that the summer ending called for a little gathering. Three moms, one dad, and a bunch of kids playing on driftwood and chattering happily. We talked and laughed. We ate.
I brought a pan of grilled ratatouille, steaming hot and smelling of summer. Michelle made coconut muffins. There was a pile of pistachios and some roasted chickpeas on that picnic table. Nothing fancy. Tami put down a cucumber salad. It looked light and healthy. I reached for some.
After one bite, I needed another. Right now. And then another. And another helping.
“Tami?” I asked her with some urgency. “What is this?”
She laughed. “Oh, we call it crack sauce. You can’t stop eating it, right?”
Since I was in mid-bite of another cucumber, I only nodded. There was a little spice, a little citrus, something warm, and the taste of smoked paprika. All liquidy dripping goodness. On cucumbers! Something this healthy couldn’t be this good, could it?
My friend Tami always has a trick up her sleeve. Vivacious and kind, Tami has an exuberance about her that makes everyone want to be near her. An actress and dedicated mama, Tami loves to be in the world. (She and her acting partner, Jennifer, have a little business called the Washington State Fairies here on Vashon. They perform the most charming singing telegrams you’ll ever see.) Her little ones are two of Lucy’s favorite people in the world. They’re always up for hijinks, like spreading fingerpaint all over the house by dancing on painted feet. We’re pretty blessed to know Tami around here.
I’m feeling pretty blessed by my friends in general these days.
The first year we lived on Vashon was pretty lonely, looking back on it. Oh, this place felt like home because I had lived here before. However, I still had to start fresh. Other than two lifelong friends who live here, and my brother and his family, I didn’t really know anyone. Nodding acquaintances do not make a life. When Danny started cooking at a restaurant again, I was home with a baby from 2 in the afternoon, by myself. (A darling baby but a baby recovering from major surgery who didn’t remember how to sleep for a year.) We didn’t live within walking distance of a coffee shop or any place where people gather. We only had one car. Love that kid as I do, I started to go a little batty for the lack of adult contact. Because I was here with Lu by myself every afternoon and evening, I had to work in the mornings when Danny could be with her. So there were days in a row that I didn’t leave the house.
It was still a happy time but I’m thrilled it’s a memory now.
I feel like it takes two full years to know a place, even if it does feel like home at first. The first year on Vashon was tough. Twitter friends were my only conversation. After we bought a beater car for Danny to drive back and forth to work, Lu and I could drive to the playground or the beach. We found a daycare for her, just a couple of hours in the afternoon. Simply sitting at the coffee shop, sipping on a chai latte while working, felt like liberation. Having a car meant I could start attending the toddler group at the island playspace and hang out at the playground when it wasn’t raining. Suddenly, I started seeing the same people in the same places and having conversations. Slowly, I began making friends.
Fast forward to a year later. A group of women I love, and their children with whom Lucy will grow up, come over to our house on Sunday afternoons. Together we bake, talk, put bandaids on knees skinned from playing outside, come up with plans to pick blackberries together or plan picnics at the beach together. After that first year of isolation here, I’ve made friends with strong, kind-hearted women who will be in my life for a long time. I feel truly lucky.
Especially when they bring cucumber salad with crack sauce to the beach.
“Tami,” I told her. “I have to write about this. Where did you find this sauce?”
She told me that her sister, who lives in Brooklyn, waxed poetic about the tortas with addictive smoked paprika sauces she was eating in small shops near her. Tami made her sister describe every taste, down to the slightest nuance. And then she started making it herself. She fiddled and played until she made the sauce you see here. By the time she visited her sister, she found to her delight that she liked her own sauce better than the one she ate in Brooklyn.
Crack sauce was born.
Look, I know that “crack sauce” isn’t an especially appropriate term. I was thinking about calling this recipe “Tami’s crack sauce,” but that sounded even worse. But this is the kind of things friends say to each other. And you have to trust me — this sauce is addictive.
Danny didn’t believe me at first. He’s dubious of anything with too much heat. And he likes to come to foods on his own, not be told how good they are before eating. When I put this sauce on a warm corn tortilla with cheese, he liked it, but he didn’t need more. The next night, I spread some on my side of the pizza crust; he wanted his bare. Still, the other day, I made some more roasted green beans and scooped up a little of this velvety orange sauce from the refrigerator. I sat down beside him to read the newspaper while Lu napped.
“Is that what you’re having for lunch?” he asked.
“Yeah. You want to try a bite?” I said.
He tried a bean dipped in this. He chewed, then swallowed, then stayed silent for a moment. “You have any more of this?”
A few moments later I saw him dipping his finger into the bowl repeatedly until he had wiped it clean.
“Yeah, I get it now,” he said. “Crack sauce.”
Thank goodness for friends, for picnics at the beach, for small children running through sunlit fields together, for cucumber salad, and for crack sauce.
SMOKED PAPRIKA CHIPOTLE SAUCE
This is Tami’s recipe. She deserves all the credit. But I’m the one with the food blog. And we both agree — you have to try this.
Be careful when you choose the chipotles in adobo sauce. Many brands have wheat flour in their cans (funny because the original recipe doesn’t require it). You might try making your own if you’re feeling adventurous. (Pati Jinich has a gorgeous recipe.) Or, look for La Costena in the can, which is gluten-free.
Tami uses Veganaise because her daughter is allergic to eggs. This makes this a vegan sauce! However, if you prefer, you could easily use homemade (or store-bought) mayonnaise instead. Personally, I like the taste of the Veganaise here. (I’m continually surprised by life.)
Keep this in the fridge and use it for anything you want: a spread for burgers, a dollop for rice, a schmear on corn tortillas. For the salad she made, Tami thinned this out with rice wine vinegar. We think you’ll find this as addictive as we do. Go make some.
1 jar veganaise (or 16 ounces mayonnaise)
1 to 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (La Costena is a gluten-free brand)
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/8 lemon rind in salt (see note below)
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and let it run.
When the sauce is bright-orange in color and smooth, take a taste. Maybe you want more of lemon, or another chipotle pepper. Play with your own taste
Lemons in Salt
Tami does something ingenious every time she uses lemons. She saves the rinds for later use in this sauce and other foods.
Choose organic lemons because you will be eating the skins. Juice them for whatever use you have for lemon juice. Then, slice up the remaining rinds (without the pulp) and put them in a big jar of coarse salt. Whenever you use lemons, replenish your stock.
Believe me, you’re going to be making this sauce often.