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Lovin' Spoonfuls. | National Geographic Traveler
[Guilty Pleasure #10]
Lovin' Spoonfuls
By Mimi Harrison


When I visit my friends in San Rafael, California, we always save Sunday for the Marin County Farmers Market. Although it is held outside the Civic Center, a structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, I never look at the building. I focus for a minute on the hillside setting- as rustic as Tuscany-and then head straight to the tables. The opulence of the market is magnificent. I stroll through the stands and sample my way toward Leon.

No matter the season I am stunned by the bounty: perfect avocados, voluptuous greens, bacchanalian bunches of grapes; lip-staining cherries, kiwis, little cups of chocolate torte, lemon tart, and heaps of robust tomatoes. Everything is luscious, even fig spelt cake. By the time I get to Leon's, my fingers are good and sticky.

That's not a problem, because Leon will give me a spoon. Leon Day makes condiments. While he seems to be a typical laid-back California type-Cheech Marin in a ball cap and T-shi rt -Leon was born in Brooklyn and raised in London.

Still, he's got the highest Bay Area bona fide of all: personal chauffeur to Jerry Garcia, before, as he says, Jerry "left to do gigs in another dimension." The Grateful Dead were tasters for many of his recipes.

With 50-some chutneys, sauces, jellies, and other concoctions to spice up your life, he isn't quite tied· with Heinz.. but he sure outdoes thl!m on marketing. With his large dark eyes and British accent. he's an awfully seductive salesman. Stand in Leon's aura, and let him lead you, spoonful by spoonful. around the Pacific Rim.

First he asks, "What do you Iike a little spice?" (Is that a challenge?) We start close to home with jicama mango chutney. Divine. The Mimi Harrison, who complains she's "out of Leon's mango chutney," Jives in Washington, D.C, but gets to Marin County as often as she can. crisp jicama and tender mango, both local. are in lovely counterpoint. with only a nip of tang.

As he takes back my spoon, he asks, "You want to go to the Big Island?" (Silly man) My spoon returns with a Polynesian-style sweet- sour nutty sauce born in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. I make the most of this with thespoon turned upside down, the better to fit my tongue into Its .curve. Yummy.

I hand him the spoon as he invites me to Thailand. A spoonful of coconut cilantro sauce makes a nice little slurp, and so does the peanut satay sauce I sip next It's rich, piquant. and spicy. I'm suddenly having an urge for a plate of pork Oh, who could blame me? I'm only human!

We push on to Asia, and I am Leon's slave. His Pacific Gourmet Sauce, a soy and tropical fruit concoction kick-started with wasabi, leaves an afterburn that stays with me till India. A spoon of mango cilantro chutney the color of emeralds-is smooth to sip, and pretty to picture drizzled on, well, just about anything.

I'm transformed. The bottles and jars are lined up on the table before me like a colonial regiment. I came, I saw, I savored.

I buy.

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