Power: The Next Howard Dean?

ood help may be hard to find, but when you’re as rich as Tom Knox, you can afford the best. When the 64-year-old UnitedHealthcare CEO recently decided to make a long-shot bid in 2007’s mayoral election, he knew that’s what he’d need. Over his rags-to-riches business career, which began in life insurance, Knox had banked tens of millions of dollars. He was wired up with local business and Democratic political elites. He’d even worked in Ed Rendell’s City Hall for 18 months. But Knox had never run for anything in his life. And frankly, he neither knew nor cared much about grimy retail politics.

So Knox asked his buddies in politics who could turn a bland rich guy into a celebrated savior of Philadelphia. Given that he was prepared to spend up to $15 million of his own fortune, he wanted someone good. Better than good. “If you want the best,” said his friend, big-shot Democratic fund-raiser Tom Leonard, “you need to call this guy Trippi.”

Knox had never heard of this guy Trippi. Didn’t know that Trippi was the brain behind Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, in which the obscure Vermont governor went from protest candidate to almost-nominee before screaming his way into oblivion. Hadn’t heard that Trippi was a visionary who’d seized upon the Internet’s full potential and helped Dean raise nearly $60 million and marshal a fanatical volunteer army. Somehow missed Trippi in the glossy magazines and on the talking-head shows. But Knox wanted the best, and Trippi sounded like it. So he called Joe, and they talked. And thus was born the oddest couple in recent Philadelphia politics.

Couplings: The Angelina Problem

It was early summer, before the event that shook the country to its core — and by that I of course mean before Brad Pitt officially divorced Jennifer Aniston, his mate of seven years, for voluptuous actress/humanitarian/lunatic Angelina Jolie, a schism that if it didn’t change the world, probably changed how we all feel about the security of our relationships.

We were sitting somewhere, the boyfriend and I, leafing through tabloids. I was in denial. The whole thing just seemed too silly, like Pitt had dumped Aniston for Jessica Rabbit, and I said something to that effect, something really clever like, “Whoa. I totally can’t believe Brad actually left Jen for Angelina.”

My boyfriend — he prefers to be referred to here as “Mr. Huge” — responded, flipping past a spread on Paris Hilton’s cellulitic thighs, “Well, who wouldn’t leave their wife for Angelina Jolie?”

I waited. He did not follow up with these words: I mean, other than me! Darling, sweetheart, taffy ears, I would never consider leaving my wife, or even you, the person I have been dating a scant three months, for Angelina Jolie, even if you were in a persistent vegetative state and she was in the room wearing a short, tight nurse’s uniform, because I adore you and only you so very, very much.

Nope, nothing like that. I hmmed in the manner of an extremely liberated woman, and turned to a page where Aniston was canoodling with Vince Vaughn. “That Vince Vaughn is a pretty great consolation prize, though,” I said.

For the next couple of weeks, we went back and forth. I insisted on seeing The Wedding Crashers — twice. He gazed impertinently at a poster for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He laughed. I laughed — it’s funny! — and then wondered privately if I needed to get silicone injections.

“Mr. Huge has an unnerving crush on celebrity homewrecker Angelina Jolie,” I confessed to some friends. “I have countered by obsessing over Vince Vaughn.”

As it turned out, Mr. Huge and I weren’t the only ones playing this game. “Oh, we’ve been having a ‘List’ discussion for a few years now,” says Amy, who lives in Marlton and has been married to her husband, Phil, for 10 years. (I’ve changed everyone’s names to protect them from themselves.) Amy explains that the “List” connotes a tally of celebrities that people in a monogamous relationship are allowed to sleep with should the chance arise. It was popularized by Friends, which I never watched, as for some reason the character of Ross made me feel homicidal. Anyway: Amy’s current List includes Sting (“although he is getting old”), while Phil counts Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bundchen among his would-be-sanctified acts of adultery. My friends Elizabeth and Steve, who just moved in together in New York, have something called the A-List Exemption, through which Elizabeth technically is allowed to cheat on Steve with James Spader, and Steve is allowed, circumstances willing, to defile First Cousin Lauren Bush. Vera, who is married with a baby and living in Collingswood, has a “Can-Do” list that includes Mark Ruffalo, while her husband, Tom, longs for a “pre-Federlined” Britney Spears. All of them gush on about how “healthy” it is to express your attraction to other people, as if talking about adultery is just a parlor game for the super-evolved, as if, if Sting and Gisele lived in Philadelphia, there’d actually be a faction trying to arrange key-swapping parties.

“But doesn’t it make either of you, um, jealous?” I venture to Amy, feeling insanely prudish, like the oldest and most virginal little old lady in the world.

“I don’t get jealous,” Amy says. “And I don’t think Phil really gets jealous. Beyond that healthy amount that makes him buy me flowers. As long as you are acting appropriately in your relationship, it’s all in good fun. It makes me feel closer to him.”

I think about it. I guess there’s no harm in admitting a celebrity crush — it’s not like Phil really has to worry that Amy is going to run into Sting at the Acme and then slip off to the Mount Laurel Hampton Inn for nine hours of tantric sex. Mr. Huge has less of a chance with Angelina Jolie than even Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, who at least can claim some link to celebrity because he’s on TV. And I suppose I can see the value in sharing a List, because if Mr. Huge thinks I can be liberal and accepting about his crushes, he’ll probably feel comfortable telling me other things, and isn’t that what everyone wants, a relationship so intimate that you tell each other everything? To know a person so well you know their very thoughts? And if the price to pay for this sublime, healthy intimacy is a little jealousy, then so be it, right?  

Plus, I hear it can get you flowers. Which is why one night, I find myself calling Mr. Huge with some newly acquired information: that Vince Vaughn is scheduled to come to Philadelphia, coincidentally during a time Mr. Huge will be out of town. On the other end of the line, my enthusiasm is met with awkward silence. And I suddenly feel kind of bad.

Exit Interview: Andrea Mitchell

We tried. We honestly tried to uphold a more intellectually refined discourse in honor of NBC News correspondent and former KYW reporter Andrea Mitchell, whose new book, Talking Back … to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels, details the 59-year-old’s illustrious career. We discussed her classical music radio show at Penn, her chats with feared dictators, and even the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, which she says were actually far worse than the media portrayed. Then we brought up her husband, outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and, well, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Old habits, you know.

Exit Interview: Tell me about your radio show at Penn, Musica de Camera.

Andrea Mitchell: It was a pretentious way of saying “chamber music.” The show’s theme song, if you will, was the third movement of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute.

EI: Are you a total Ivy League snob?

AM: Not total. Only partial. It came out of my background as a violinist and pianist.

EI: Is it true you were also Candice Bergen’s roomie?

AM: No. That was misreported in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Candice Bergen was in my class at Penn, and we were in the same dorm. But I knew her, and she was not only one of the nicest, but one of the most glamorous freshmen.

EI: Would other girls in the dorm draw mustaches on her photos and hang them on her door?

AM: Definitely not. She was very popular. Very well-liked.

EI: Were you two party girls?

AM: I can’t speak for anyone besides me. Obviously, I was.

EI: Clearly, judging by that radio show.

AM: I was a wild and crazy girl.

EI: When it comes to dictators you’ve covered, who was the toughest interview: Fidel Castro or Frank Rizzo?

AM: Probably Castro, because he starts his interviews around midnight. He stays up all night. It puts anyone interviewing him at a distinct disadvantage. Frank Rizzo helped shape my career by toughening me up as a reporter, teaching me how to stand up to strong, powerful men, and how to talk back.

EI: We have a copy of your book, and I love it when the publisher gives us a list of “suggested interview questions.”

AM: Oh, I’m so sorry. Don’t hold me responsible for those!

EI: Have you been interviewed by someone who only asks you those pre-fab questions?

AM: I’ve never seen the questions.

EI: We just happen to have them. Here’s my favorite [in the tone of a host from The View]: “You’ve covered the Jonestown Massacre and visited refugee camps in Darfur. How do you stay focused on your story in the face of human tragedy?”

AM: It’s hard to cover disasters without becoming emotionally engaged. As a reporter, you are trained to keep a distance. In the hurricane coverage, you’ve seen a change in that. Reporters have become very involved in challenging the assertions of government officials at every level. I have concerns that some of my colleagues are going to wake up months from now and have a delayed reaction to everything they’ve witnessed.

EI: As in post-traumatic stress?

AM: Yeah, because they saw some things that were too horrible to even talk about on television. Trust me, we did not reveal everything that we saw down there. I wasn’t there, but I’m talking about my colleagues.

EI: How bad was it?

AM: Since I was not an eyewitness, I shouldn’t speak to it, but I know they saw some truly horrific things, with, you know, people who were dead and dismembered, and other kinds of horrors. Far beyond what you could ever talk about on television.

EI: Who have you interviewed that turned out to be the opposite of what you expected? Maybe you thought you’d hate Kim Jong Il but then, hey — turns out he’s quite the little charmer.

AM: [laughs] No, Kim Jong Il was exactly what I expected. With the platform shoes and the teased hair, or weave, or whatever the heck it is. It’s sort of a Donald Trump hair thing.

EI: But when he says “You’re fired,” it has a whole different meaning.

AM: It does! Castro was surprising in that I didn’t expect him to be as well-read as he was, and as up to speed on contemporary economic issues. I thought of him more as a Cold War icon, and he’s actually on the Internet.

EI: Let’s discuss the rock star in your family. Your husband.

AM: I thought you were talking about me. No offense. He’s my rock star.

EI: Is it true that your nickname for him is Sweet Pea?

AM: [sighs] That’s classified.

EI: How did he woo you?

AM: Very slowly. [laughs]

EI: You first met him during an interview about the federal budget. Was there an instant spark from such a sexy topic?

AM: You don’t think deficits are hot?

EI: Well, I imagine him having a few glasses of wine, talking about “working capital positions” and his “long hedge,” then getting slapped.

AM: Everything can be misinterpreted. That’s the joy of being with Greenspan. He has so many levels of meaning.

EI: Did he ask you if you wanted to see his prime rate?

AM: Not hardly.

EI: Who balances the family checkbook?

AM: [laughs] Not me. Would you expect I’d be in charge of family finances?

EI: Probably not. So when Sweet Pea resigns in January, will we see him on QVC pimping your book?

AM: Um, I think he’ll have more important things to do.

Contrarian: Boys ‘R Us, Inc.

’ve been reading this motivational business book, Jesus, CEO, and even though it’s not much as literature, I think I’ll highlight some passages and send it along to our dazed and confused Cardinal Rigali. God knows the local shepherd of the faith needs some leadership pointers right now, and who’s got better advice than Jesus, Rigali’s presumptive spiritual leader?

I say “presumptive” because in taking on the clergy sex abuse scandal, Rigali and his crew have imitated Machiavelli more than the Messiah. After the Philadelphia district attorney’s office released a blistering 418-page grand jury report about his archdiocese, Rigali told the Inquirer he doubted the value of reading it. So what if Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”? Our cardinal’s credo is, “Avoideth the truth, cover thine ears, and go ‘Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya!’”

Lapsed Catholic that I am, I ignored the cardinal’s advice and waded through the grand jury’s catalog of clerical-collar crimes. It’s no longer news that there are pedophiles in the ranks of parish priests. What’s news is the lengths to which the archdiocese has gone to keep those pedophiles out of the news.

The grand jury discovered that for decades the Philadelphia archdiocese has been run like the Nixon White House. Secret documents, crafty lawyers, obsessive cover-ups, deceptions decreed from on high — it’s all there. Worst of all, Nixonian Cardinal “Tricky Tony” Bevilacqua all but perjured himself before the grand jury. The report reveals that Bevilacqua placed a notorious serial pedophile in an assistant pastor’s job in Conshohocken and then told the jurors he hadn’t been aware of the man’s troubled history — despite a stream of internal memos showing that he’d been making management moves around the priest’s criminal habits for years.

To many, this is the ultimate sin of Bevilacqua and his minions: When it came time to choose between protecting the children and protecting the church, they circled the pews, punished the whistleblowers, and hung the young victims out to dry. Critics have condemned the archdiocese for dealing with abuse accusations in a calculating, legalistic way. The archdiocese’s approach wasn’t Christian, they complain. It was “corporate.”

I’d say that casts far too harsh a judgment — on corporations.

Poker Prodigy

Jordan Berkowitz is fond of diamonds. Two pavé diamond studs hang from his ears. Twelve diamonds mark the hours on the bezel of his TAG Heuer wristwatch.

On his flat-screen monitor, Jordan is playing four simultaneous hands of online No Limit Texas Hold-’Em. He has more than $2,000 in play at each table. After folding hand after hand, he finally gets two cards he likes. They are diamonds, the ace and the two. The three-card flop brings two more diamonds, the nine and the queen. With two cards to come, Jordan is one diamond short of a nut flush. He fires $400 into the pot.

“Come on, let’s see a diamond,” he growls. He gets a four of clubs. He bets another $500. Teacupper, his on-screen opponent, calls the bet.

“Diamond … diamond … diamond,” Jordan softly chants, and gets the two of clubs instead, making a measly pair of twos. He bets anyway, bluffing big and without hesitation. Jordan is 18 years old and still lives at his mom’s stucco colonial in Marple Township, where he’s found his calling as a professional gambler. Since winning $210,000 in a tournament one night this summer, Jordan has been playing very aggressively. He fires his last $1,000 into the $2,100 pot.

“Now fold, you motherfucker!” he shouts. “Fold!”

I’m sitting on the couch with Jordan’s friend Lee, holding Jordan’s mom’s dachshund, Scooby Doo, in my lap. We watch in silence as Teacupper ponders Jordan’s final bet for a few seconds.

Teacupper folds.

Jordan nods, chuckles, lights a Newport. This is his job — to sit in front of a screen for 10 to 16 hours a day, extracting vast sums of money from strangers with his wireless mouse. While this lifestyle has left traces of baby fat on his six-foot-one frame, his face has toughened, acquiring the elongated features of a politician or a comedian, and half-lidded eyes that sleepily size you up. He’s dressed in Jordan sneakers, a Jordan cap, baggy Jordan shorts, Mark Ecko boxer shorts, an XL Sean John polo shirt, and a bracelet made of his initials in gold. The music-video bling and the baby face with the wary eyes suggest a white, suburban Jay-Z, as does the new, sleek $85,000 BMW 645 coupe sitting in the driveway, awaiting its $8,000 rims, all bought with his winnings.

“What did you have? Did you hit your flush?” Lee asks.

“Nah,” Jordan replies, without turning around. “I had absolutely fucking nothing. But at No Limit, you can really push people around. You bet the flop and they’ll fold. Or they’ll call you and you bet again, and maybe then you make your hand. If you miss, you just keep betting. Betting is awesome.”

Features: Sweet City: Our Favorite Cookie

To find our favorite cookie, we asked more than 350 pastry chefs and bakers to send us samples of their favorites. We were in search of an impressive but easy recipe, one we would make at home. We tasted dozens and dozens of cookies before proclaiming a winner: the Ritz-Carlton’s flawless cranberry wreaths. We couldn’t get enough of executive pastry chef Tomas Ruiz’s chewy blend of vanilla and brown sugar, mixed with white chocolate chunks and just a hint of dried cranberry.

Cranberry Wreaths
Submitted by executive pastry chef Tomas Ruiz, the Ritz-Carlton.

Makes four dozen.

    2    c. cake flour
    1    c. bread flour
    1    tsp. salt
    1    tsp. baking soda
    2 1/2    c. unsalted butter, chilled
    3    large eggs
    2    Tbsp. acacia honey
    1    stick Tahitian vanilla
        (Cut stick in half and scrape
        the inside with a knife  to release vanilla)
    3    c. light muscovado sugar, plus more for sprinkling
    2    c. white chocolate chips
    1    c. sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 360˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift all dry ingredients except sugar and set aside. Cream together butter, eggs, honey and vanilla in a mixer on medium speed. With mixer still on medium, add sugar. Then, with mixer on low, add sifted dry ingredients half a cup at a time and mix until dough is of uniform consistency. Fold in white chocolate chips and cranberries, mixing gently.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets. Using your palm, flatten dough into three-inch circles. Use a one-inch circle cookie cutter to cut out center of each cookie to form wreath shape. Sprinkle the tops with muscovado sugar.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until golden brown. Using spatula, transfer to wire racks for cooling.

Note: It was the somewhat pricey, high-quality ingredients, especially the muscovado sugar, that made us love this cookie; buy them at Assouline & Ting (215-627-3000) and Foster’s Gourmet Cookware (215-925-0950). Or substitute light brown sugar for the light muscovado sugar, three cups all-purpose flour for two cups cake and one cup bread flour, and a vanilla bean for the stick of Tahitian vanilla.
Of course, we couldn’t pick just one! For our delicious runners-up, see the recipes on page 171.

More Great Cookies

These recipes — both classic and unusual — were crowd-pleasers in our cookie competition.

First Runner-Up

Ginger Cookies
Submitted by Alison Barshak and Eileen Talanian, Alison at Blue Bell.

A beautiful, simple cookie that slowly reveals its depth of ginger and cloves in every moist, chewy bite.
   
    Makes four dozen.

    1    c. unsalted butter, at cool
        room temperature
    2    c. granulated sugar
    2    tsp. ginger root, finely chopped
    2    Tbsp. ground ginger
    1    Tbsp. crystallized ginger,
        finely chopped
    1    Tbsp. ground cinnamon
    1    tsp. ground cloves
    4    tsp. baking soda
    1/2    tsp. salt
    2    large eggs
    1/2    c. light, unsulfured molasses
    2 3/4    c. all-purpose unbleached flour
    1 3/4    c. whole wheat flour
    1    c. dark or golden raisins (optional)
     2    tsp. crystallized ginger, chopped,
        for garnish

Preheat a conventional oven to 325˚ or a convection oven to 310˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place everything except the flour, raisins and ginger for garnish in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium-high speed for two minutes. Scrape the bowl, and add the flour and the raisins (if you’re using them). Beat on low speed just until the flour is mixed in. If you’re using a hand mixer, blend in half the flour with the mixer and the rest with a wooden spoon.

Portion the dough into slightly mounded two-tablespoon balls. (You can use a slightly mounded #40 dough scoop for this.) Place the dough balls two inches apart on the lined baking sheets, and garnish the centers with a few small bits of chopped crystallized ginger. Lightly press the dough down with the palm of your hand to a thickness of one-half inch.

Bake the cookies in a preheated oven for 15 to 17 minutes, turning the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies will still be soft when done, but the edges will be slightly firm. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack for a few minutes, then slide the parchment, with the cookies on it, off the sheet and onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Note: You can replace the whole wheat flour with unbleached all-purpose, and some or all of the granulated sugar with brown sugar. The cookies will keep, in a zipper-top plastic bag, for several days, or can be wrapped, airtight, and frozen for up to two months.

Best Chocolate Cookie

Snow-Topped Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Submitted by Sonjia Spector, Matyson.

These brownie-like confections are decadent without being overly sweet.

    Makes about six dozen.

    1/2    c. unsalted butter
    6    oz. bittersweet baking chocolate
    4    large eggs
    1    Tbsp. vanilla extract
    2    c. granulated sugar
    2    c. all-purpose flour
    2    tsp. baking powder
    1/2    tsp. salt
    1    c. chocolate chips
        Granulated sugar for rolling
        Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt butter with the chocolate. Using an electric mixer, mix eggs, vanilla and sugar until ribbony. Add melted chocolate and butter and stir. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll dough into one-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place two inches apart on pan. Bake cookies at 325˚ for 10 to 15 minutes, until just done in the middle. Remove from pan and place on cooling rack immediately. When cool, dust tops with confectioner’s sugar and place in airtight container.

Note: Good-quality chocolate is the key to this cookie. Spector recommends Valrhona.

Best Sugar Cookie

Sugar Cookies
Submitted by Blair Bleacher, Old Original Bookbinder’s.

Flaky and light, these cookies have just the right amount of sweetness.

    Makes two dozen.

    3/4    c. unsalted butter
    3/4    c. granulated sugar
    1    large egg
    1    Tbsp. lemon zest
    1    tsp. vanilla extract
    2 1/2    c. all-purpose flour
    1/4    tsp. salt
        Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten
        with 1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla. Beat until blended. Sift together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture slowly, beating until incorporated. Form dough into two flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two to three hours.

Dust your work surface with flour. Roll dough to two-eighths-inch thickness. Cut to desired shape. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 350˚ for eight to 10 minutes.

Remove to wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Note: Cookies can be decorated with colored sugar (before baking) or melted chocolate (after baking).

Most Original Cookie

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
Submitted by Jimmy Flail, High Point Cafe.

Tea leaves lend this cookie a surprising, light flavor, a nice break from the heavier sweets of the season.

Makes two dozen.

    3 1/2    c. all-purpose flour
        Contents of 4 Earl Grey tea bags
    1 1/4    c. unsalted butter
    1    c. dark brown sugar
    2    large eggs
        Granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 375˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour and tea and set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar with electric mixer for two and a half minutes. Beat in eggs. Beat in dry ingredients until well incorporated. Roll dough into three-fourth-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on baking sheet. (There is minimal spreading.) Press balls to about one-and-a-quarter-inch disks. Bake at 375˚ for 10 to 15 minutes, until just firm. Let cool on pan; store in airtight container for up to three weeks.

Most Kid-Friendly Cookie

Toasted Peanut Butter S’Mores
Submitted by Frank Urso, Barclay Prime.

The recipe for this candy-like cookie is daunting, but your guests will appreciate the effort.

    Makes four dozen.

Chocolate Cookie

    1    c. all-purpose flour
    6    Tbsp. Hershey’s Dutch-processed
        cocoa powder
    1/2    tsp. baking soda
    1/4    tsp. salt
    10    Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
    1    c. granulated sugar
    1    large egg
    1    tsp. vanilla extract
    1    c. mini chocolate chips
    1    small jar marshmallow creme
        (put creme in zipper storage bag
        and set aside for later use)

Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl, using a mixer, until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla to the ­butter-sugar mixture. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chips. Wrap bowl with plastic and set aside.

Graham Cracker Crust

    1    c. graham cracker crumbs
    3    Tbsp. granulated sugar
    1/2    c. unsalted butter, melted
    1/2    tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients until combined. Set aside.

Peanut Butter Filling

    1/2    c. creamy peanut butter
    1/4    c. unsalted butter, softened
    1/2    c. confectioner’s sugar
    1/4    tsp. salt
    1/2    tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients with a mixer until smooth and creamy. Fill a zipper storage bag with filling. Set aside for later use. (A pastry bag can also be used.)

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350˚. Lightly spray two mini muffin tins with nonstick spray.
Place one rounded teaspoon of the graham cracker mixture in the bottom of each muffin cup. Press firmly. Divide chocolate cookie dough into teaspoon-sized balls. Place one ball of dough in each muffin cup and press lightly with moistened fingers to fill cup.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350˚, until set. Remove from oven. Immediately make an indentation in each cup with the back of a small spoon. Cool cookies completely in pans. Remove from pans with the aid of a paring knife. Place cooled cookies on a cookie sheet.

Preheat broiler. Squeeze a dime-sized dollop of the peanut butter filling in each cavity. Cut small corner off zipper bag of marshmallow creme. Squeeze a small amount of marshmallow onto each cookie to cover peanut butter filling. Place cookies under the broiler, watching very carefully, until marshmallow is lightly browned. (You can also use a brûlée torch.) Cool cookies completely and store, tightly covered, in a single layer.

Note: Cookies may be frozen without the marshmallow creme for up to three months. Just defrost, top with marshmallow, broil and serve.

Sweet City: Best Bakeries

A hazelnut gâteau, Chantilly cream puffs — or even straightforward from-scratch brownies — can intimidate the most accomplished home cook. But the region’s ever-expanding assortment of dessert-rich bakeries means the end of toiling over soggy apple tarts or falling soufflés. Head to one of these 20 top spots for a just-filled cannoli, a pumpkin charlotte or a decadent sticky bun. Sure, there’s still the effort of picking up the goods. But until Le Bec-Fin’s dessert cart starts home delivery, we’ll happily take what we can takeout.

* Center City

Beiler’s Bakery
Reading Terminal Market,
12th and Arch streets; 215-351-0735
Wednesday through Saturday, a warm, better-than-Cinnabon cloud of baking goodness emanates from Beiler’s, enveloping the northwest corner of Reading Terminal. It defies passersby not to stop to watch white-bonneted workers pound out dough and extract steaming, golden-brown cinnamon rolls from the silver oven. Resistance, of course, is futile when faced with dozens of those soft, buttery, raisin-, pecan- or plain-topped sticky buns.
Sweet tip: Shell out an extra buck for a whoopee pie, a round and feather-light dark chocolate sandwich stuffed with marshmallow fluff.

Metropolitan Bakery
Various locations;
metropolitanbakery.com
Known first and foremost for its artisanal breads, Wendy Born and James Barrett’s 12-year-old project nonetheless cranks out a mean fig bar, millet muffin, lemon pound cake and chocolate chip cookie. This is quite a feat, considering Metropolitan is the region’s longest running artisanal bread bakery, with several locations in Center City and outposts in Chestnut Hill, Ardmore and West Philly. We keep coming back for pound bags of crunchy granola, chocolate truffle tarts, iced cinnamon danish, and Normandy apple bread—and the Shelburne Farms cheddar to go with it.
Sweet tip: This year, try Metropolitan’s version of Italian fruitcake, a brioche-style dough dappled with bits of candied citrus and chocolate and dusted in powdered sugar.

Petit 4 Pastry Studio
160 North 3rd Street; 215-627-8440
Why this Old City bakery doesn’t have a line out the door on Friday nights—the way bars down the street do—is inexplicable. After all, Joe Moorehead’s artsy-chic shop is the consummate date spot or place to catch up with friends over shared slices of apple pie topped with crème anglaise, hazelnut almond torte layered with raspberry jam and chocolate buttercream, buttery-tart linzer tortes, or banana chocolate chip cookies. In the five years since Moorehead hung his vintage surfboard at this address, Petit 4 has changed little. The shop still makes a mean snickerdoodle—and continues to build amazingly sculptural cakes.
Sweet tip: In winter months, Petit 4 mixes up ganache-based hot chocolate and tops it with fresh whipped cream.

Tartes Fine Cakes & Pastries
212 Arch Street; 215-625-2510
One of Old City’s few remaining secrets is this petite, pale pink bakery across the street from the Betsy Ross house, open Tuesday to Saturday. In the late afternoon, patrons drift up to the service window for cookies (oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, sugar, and our favorite, fresh ginger with chocolate chunks), bars (lemon, chocolate toffee) and, of course, light-crusted four-inch tarts. The repertoire of self-taught baker Teresa Wall includes heirloom apple, cranberry-walnut, pear and cranberry with ginger/brown butter custard, and sweet potato/pecan.
Sweet tip: After-hours cravings for Wall’s famous chocolate espresso
tarts can be satisfied at Monk’s in Center City.

* Philly Neighborhoods

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
Liberties Walk, 1030 North 2nd Street, #601, 215-629-0999;
brownbettydesserts.com
Repeat after us: Pineapple cupcakes. Coconut cream pound cake. Double-chocolate peanut butter cookies. Liberties Walk. Never heard of this last one? It’s the quietly emerging retail center just north of the Standard Tap on 2nd Street—a groovy pedestrian strip mall, if you will. The walk is home to this non-stuffy parlor of a pastry shop, a place to sit on an antique sofa and nibble at the first three items, old-fashioned treats made from the recipes of Elizabeth “Betty” Hinton, whose daughter and granddaughter run the place. Pop in after noon to pick up a snack—but call ahead if you require a freshly baked apple brown betty.
Sweet tip: Think Magnolia’s cornered the cupcake market? Order a dozen of Betty’s buttermilk pound-cake variety with chocolate buttercream, and get back to us.

Cake
184 East Evergreen Avenue,
Chestnut Hill; 215-247-6887
Tucked away in the heart of the Hill, this rustically hip spot offers rough-cut plank tables, unframed art, and servers wearing funky glasses. Owner Grey Heck has a degree in pastry from Napa’s Culinary Institute of America. The result: Dense cupcakes frosted in buttercream flowers or injected with lemon curd, caramelized Granny Smith tarts, double-thick cream cheese  brownies, plenty rich raisin scones, and downright orgasmic mocha-mousse-filled chocolate cake — wearing a crown of ­chocolate-­covered coffee beans.
Sweet tip: The name’s Cake, but this place also does a bang-up job on sugar cutouts, chocolate rum balls, gingerbread people, and mini peanut butter, double chocolate, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and ginger cookies.

Essene Market
719 South 4th Street (at Fitzwater Street),
215-922-1146; essenemarket.com
Baking is hard enough as is. Take away staple ingredients—white flour, butter, eggs, granulated sugar—and baking anything tastier than your basic granola bar seems downright impossible. Still, if anyone’s up to the challenge, it’s Laura Grove. A cheese-eating vegan who trained under Metropolitan’s James Barrett, she opened the back-room bakery in Queen Village’s natural foods market in 1991. Her greatest achievements: crispy toffee cookies, berry cobblers, organic fruit muffins, chocolate birthday cakes, earthy pumpkin pies, and something called a Mikerific—banana sponge cake topped with peanut butter and iced with dark, dairy-free ganache. Look out, Kandy Kake. The vegans are coming.
Sweet tip:  Essene’s oat bars, thick rectangles filled with locally made organic jam, rule.

Famous 4th Street Deli
4th and Bainbridge streets; 215-922-3274
The éclairs in Famous’s gleaming pastry case are approximately the size of women’s bedroom slippers. In a size eight. Maybe 10. ­Custard-filled and chocolate-dipped, the choux sandwiches are delicate in taste but nearly oafish in appearance. Indeed, ever since Kibbitz entrepreneur Russ Cowan took over the place in April, Famous’s unofficial motto has been “Bigger is better.” Black-and-white cookies could double as frisbees. Cream-cheese-rich rugelach, filled with almond, apricot, raspberry or chocolate, are bites- (not bite-) size. Layer cakes—coconut-dusted lemon, mocha-frosted checkerboard—are not only impossibly moist, they’re also as thick as ceiling beams, and available by the “chunk,” or whole, if you dare.
Sweet tip: Yes, they still give out David Auspitz’s famous chocolate chip cookies after each meal. As if you had room.

Holmesburg Bakery
7933 Frankford Avenue, 215-624-1091; holmesburgbakery.net
The senior citizen on this list—at an impressive 105 years—Holmesburg epitomizes what older folks call a “Philadelphia-style” bakery. Turns out our fair city is known for shallow, rectangular cheesecakes with rich pie crusts, tart-like coffee cakes topped with slices of fresh plums or peaches, feather-light Polish chrusciki, sweet and yeasty cheese-filled babkas, crumb-topped Melrose danishes, and cream-filled doughnuts. In other words, Philly—via Holmesburg’s treats—represents a diverse group of immigrants that settled here more than a century ago.
Sweet tip: December’s the time for springerle, German anise-seed cookies stamped with images of birds, houses and leaves.

Isgro Pastry
1009 Christian Street, 215-923-3092;
isgropastry.com
Gus “Isgro” Sarno can go on forever about cannoli. The fried-and-filled pastry wrap is an obsession he inherited from maternal grandfather Mario Isgro, who founded this Italian Market business 101 years ago. Sarno will tell you each shell must be 1.5 millimeters thick, and that a special blend of homemade red and sweet white wines makes it blister. He can quote the exact moisture content of the cinnamon-kissed ricotta-chocolate chip filling (63 to 64 percent). Still, that doesn’t mean the shop neglects its other wares. The second-best-seller is cassata, Italian rum cake enrobed in pebbled almond candy. And during the winter holidays, a close third is the precious, pistachio-chocked, stick-to-your-molars torrone, sold by the rugged brick.
Sweet tip: Call ahead to order the grand cannoli—a tower of two dozen minis.

Night Kitchen
7725 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 215-248-9235; 45 East State Street, Doylestown, 215-348-9775; nightkitchenbakery.com
Open for 23 years—with three different owners—this bottom-of-the-Hill spot still possesses its original folksy charms. Owner Amy Edelman and her baker husband, John Millard, stick to the first two owners’ recipes, and have made only a few small changes for the better—like substituting butter for margarine in the icing, making chocolate bread pudding from Friday’s leftover challah, decorating cakes with fondant cutouts in the shapes of barnyard animals, and opening a Doylestown location. It’s the standbys customers return for: thick shortbread cutout cookies in cocoa-y chocolate and chocolate chip, lovely scones, and tart lemon squares.
Sweet tip: Edelman asks for a week’s notice for special-order cakes. The mocha mousse and the lemon curd are birthday favorites.

Termini Brothers
1523 South 8th Street, 215-334-1816;
termini.com
Even if it didn’t make the best sfogliatelle in town, we’d still come back to this iconic 82-year-old South Philly pasticerria—for the atmosphere alone. On line-out-the-door Saturdays, the white-uniformed counter clerks approach wits’ end, kids can’t keep their fingers out of the center buffet, and the person ahead of you in line inevitably can’t choose between ricotta and chocolate Italian cream cannoli. Still, the Termini experience never becomes annoying, because the weekend keyboardist and accordionist heartily thump out the theme from The Godfather, and the reward for your patience can be a box of dense, chewy pignoli.
Sweet tip: Kids getting out of hand? Send them into the kitchen to see how the torrone—a chewy pistachio nougat—is made.

* The Main Line

Aux Petits Delices
162 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne,
610-971-0300; auxpetits.com
This black-and-pink-awninged jewel-box shop is to French pastry what Cartier is to cocktail rings. Welcome to the terroir of reigning Main Line patissier Patrick Gauthron, where gold-leaf swirls embellish ganache lids of opera cake, red raspberries glisten atop custard-swaddled tarte barques, and dark-and-white-chocolate-striped spirals bedeck crunchy-creamy hazelnut and chocolate mousse delices. Occasions are celebrated to the utmost: There are three-foot-tall, $125 chocolate bunnies at Easter; rich meringue-mushroom-topped bûches de Noël at Christmas, truffles packed into pretty navy and gold boxes for Valentine’s, and, for lazy, luxurious mornings, flaky and delightful pure butter croissants.
Sweet tip: Break this New Year’s resolution the way the French do: Order a king’s cake (almond cream-filled choux) for Epiphany.

The Carrot Cake Man at D’Innocenzo Pastries
Lancaster County Farmers Market,
389 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne;
610-687-6580
Wearing his signature bow tie and straw hat, Vernon “The Carrot Cake Man” Wilkins offers his signature item—in a choice of flavors—from a corner of  D’Innocenzo’s conglomerate-style bakery. In the past decade, he’s become a Main Line fixture, offering up toothpick-speared cubes of his crunchy-crusted, carrot-threaded wares to compliant farmers’-market shoppers every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. With just a hint of nutmeg and a side of cream cheese frosting, these one-slice-is-not-enough sweet breads come in coconut, walnut, pineapple, pistachio and banana, but the most popular flavor is peach. Wilkins’s own favorite: apple.
Sweet tip: The other end of D’Innocenzo’s counter is home to Marie Connell’s thick My House Cookies—dark chocolate chip, oatmeal-cherry, blackout, ginger, three for $4.

Le Petit Mitron
207 Haverford Avenue, Narberth;
484-562-0500
This über-traditional patisserie is just the sort of reason people move to Paris … or Narberth. Patrick and Isabelle Rurange—the husband-and-wife team formerly known as “that French couple that makes the croissants for La Colombe”—have spent the past four years helping to transform their township’s workaday image, one royal cake at time. Today, regular customers include morning R5 riders who stop by for a cup of joe and a pain au chocolate—and area families for whom Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without Le Petit Mitron’s pumpkin charlotte, and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the Saint Honoré (a decadent cake built of caramel-coated cream puffs).
Sweet tip: On weekends, the Ruranges run specials, delicious experiments that might involve dark chocolate mousse, fruit-flavored chiboust, or delicate tufts of crème chantilly.

Sweet Jazmine’s
15 Bridge Avenue, Berwyn, 610-644-1868; sweetjazmines.com
There is no such thing as a plain cheesecake at Kimberly Davis Cuthbert’s adorably green-and-violet bakery. There is heady amaretto cheesecake. There is sweet-tart lemon blueberry cheesecake. There are apple-­cinnamon, raspberry mango, pumpkin spice, and cappuccino/white chocolate cheesecakes (45 kinds in all). But sorry, the closest this shop comes to plain is vanilla—and vanilla usually involves a cherry center and dark chocolate shavings. No plain, only fancy, which is fine with Sweet Jazmine’s devoted customers—Renee Chenault-Fattah and Chaka Fattah and Senator Vincent Hughes and Sheryl Lee Ralph ordered their wedding cakes here.
Sweet tip: For an almost-homemade dessert, pick up a jar of Cuthbert’s dark butterscotch sauce, which comes with the world’s easiest recipe for bananas Foster. (Just add bananas.)

*Northern Suburbs

Cramer’s Bakery
26 East Afton Avenue, Yardley;
215-493-2760
Cramer’s is not the place to go for a complicated French framboisier. It’s a place where you stock up on powdered-sugar-dusted walnut crescent cookies. Or zucchini bread. Or Polish poppy seed rolls, plain-dealing pound cake, jam-filled cream cheese cookies, holiday butter cookies—and maybe a cinnamon doughnut. Founded in 1946, this all-American bakeshop isn’t above using a little shortening and a splash of food coloring. Nor, thank goodness, is the staff above coming to the rescue when you dash in just before closing, all out of breath, and beg for a Superman cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday Max.”
Sweet tip: Believe it or not, Cramer’s pumpkin-spice chocolate chip cookies outsell the classic Toll Houses.

Zakes Cakes and Cafe
444 Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, 215-654-7600; zakescafe.com
Enter this pretty, side-of-the-road stone Victorian house on a Friday afternoon around 1:30, and count how many times you hear the phrase, “Dessert? Oh, I shouldn’t. … ” Zakes is the consummate ladies-who-lunch spot, with rooms painted the color of raspberry chai, and grilled chicken and chèvre salads that may be tasty, but really are only a prelude to plated-up cream puffs with fresh blackberries, deep-dish apple pie, and a bevy of mild cakes that inspire requests for extra forks. The place is popular from breakfast (think lemon-raspberry, orange-pecan and cranberry-pear muffins) through light ­dinner—by which time they may, unfortunately, be out of éclairs.
Sweet tip: For Passover, Zakes bakes chocolate soufflés, raspberry shortcakes and black-and-white gâteaux.

* New Jersey

McMillan’s Bakery
15 Haddon Avenue, Westmont;
856-854-3094
Since 1939, this South Jersey bakery has been turning out the ultimate in comfort fare: crispy cake doughnuts whose centers have been cut open to make room for copious clouds of extra-sweet, extra-secret-recipe white cream filling. Or go for the cake-like cream cheese and fruit muffins, raisin “tea biscuit” scones, thickly iced cupcakes, and 60 varieties of cookies: classic chocolate-dipped brown derbies, nut-and-chip-chocked Hollywood Hills, and lumpy, confectioner’s-sugar-dusted Cape Mays that are thick with raisins, whole walnuts and dried apricots.
Sweet tip: The McMillan family promises its fruitcake defies stereotypes—and offers free samples to all doubters.

Miel Patisserie
Village Walk, 1990 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, 856-424-MIEL, and 204 South 17th Street, 215-731-9191; mielpatiserrie.com
Named after the French word for honey, three-year-old Miel Patisserie has two, dichotomous homes: Miel Cherry Hill is strip-mall convenient. Miel Center City is marble and mahogany. Jersey is where the goods are made: five-star crumb cake, chocolate mousse, a classic French gâteau, and 16 varieties of chocolates (including fleur de sel and Szechuan pepper). The man behind it all is Rocco Lugrine, who hails from the pastry kitchens of San Fran’s Panorama and our very own Brasserie Perrier, and who now bakes birthday cakes for M. Night and casts (even when Joaquin Phoenix requires a vegan creation).
Sweet tip: Gotta impress on the run? Pick up a Miel gâteau, an impressively complicated layering of chocolate mousse, vanilla Bavarian cream, chocolate génoise and rich ganache.

Sweet City: Classic Confections

Doughnuts   These heartier versions of hole-less doughnuts get their sweetness from butterscotch sauce and creamy gelato. “I added cold ice cream to warm doughnuts, because contrast in desserts is always a great thing.”
—Jemal Edwards, Brûlée

Apple strudel   Warm strudel with caramelized apples and nuts slightly melts cinnamon-spiked panna cotta. “Cold weather inspires apples and cinnamon, and the creamy panna cotta and flaky strudel go nicely.”
—Emily Landis, Nectar

Tapioca pudding   Refreshing coconut blends with the soft, creamy consistency of classic tapioca pudding and gets some crunch from guava oatmeal bars. “We’re taking comfort food and putting a Cuban twist on it.”
—Kate Honeyman, Alma de Cuba

Ice-cream sundae   This cool dessert salutes the Italian concept of melting ice cream with coffee. “I wanted to do an affogato version of the sundae, because I love the flavor of espresso. It’s more of a fancy retro dessert.”
—Sonjia Spector, Matyson

Bread pudding   Liquor-infused cherries, green apples and sweet vanilla ice cream add depth to moist bread pudding. “We change the ingredients seasonally but always have bread pudding, because it’s a best-seller.”
—Evan Turney, Valanni

All the Vince That’s Fit to Print

ON A MUGGY Friday morning in July, the shareholders of First Penn Bank opened one of the weirder annual meetings in the
company’s 82-year history.

First Penn isn’t a big operation. Founded as the Fumo Building & Loan in South Philly during the 1920s — when Italians had a tough time getting homes financed by more established institutions — the bank today operates 13 branches and controls $500 million in assets. Regional giant Commerce Bank, by comparison, operates 340 branches, with $36 billion in assets.

Even so, six weeks earlier, First Penn had received the sort of scrutiny normally awarded Supreme Court nominees or suspicious-looking moles. In mid-May, the Philadelphia Inquirer had published a series of front-page articles about the company that the paper said detailed “a saga of mergers, dramatic growth, angry lawsuits, a falling-out of millionaires, and politicians’ profits that went undisclosed.” Yet anyone expecting a titillating read — Barbarians at the Gate meets Lady Chatterley’s Lover, perhaps — was bound to be disappointed. Most of the stories focused on one individual: the notorious 62-year-old state senator who also happens to be chairman of the company and grandson of its founder — ­Vincent J. Fumo, a man whom the bank’s board had, in the paper’s words, served “especially well.”

That much was certainly true. In 2004 alone, the bank had awarded Fumo more than $700,000 in compensation; it had also provided him with a Mercedes-Benz and $950,000 in reduced-rate loans. In the event that the bank was sold or taken over, moreover, Fumo would receive a “golden parachute” worth more than $4 million.

There had only been one thing missing from the stories about Fumo’s bank: Fumo. Neither he nor anyone else involved with the company had talked to the paper.

Now, six weeks later, the three people involved in reporting and writing the Inquirer series — Mario Cattabiani, Craig McCoy and Jennifer Lin — were doing a follow-up. This time, they were determined to get some comments, and they hit on an ingenious plan to assure access to company officers. Each of the reporters bought a small quantity of stock in First Penn’s parent company, automatically entitling them to attend the annual meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Center City.

Even Fumo, however grudgingly, had to admire their pluck. Of course, by then there wasn’t any place Fumo didn’t expect to see Inquirer reporters — especially Cattabiani and McCoy. For months, it seemed, he couldn’t scratch his nose without it showing up in the paper. Like the cops or the courts or the Eagles, he had become, he believed, one of the paper’s beats.

At least he could have some fun with it. And so that morning, after he called the meeting to order and asked for a moment of silence to honor former First Penn board member Stephen Marcus, who had just died, he told the crowd he wanted to welcome the bank’s newest shareholders. That’s when he introduced his daughter Allie — and the three reporters. It was, considering the setting, about as much of an up yours as he could get away with. “I just about fell out of my chair,” says one attendee.

Fumo didn’t stay at the meeting for long. Marcus’s funeral was scheduled for that morning, and Fumo was planning to attend. On his way out, the reporters approached him to ask some questions. He brushed them off. “But for a minute,” he says, “I actually thought they might show up at the funeral.”

The Passion of T. O.

Sure, a lot of people hate Terrell Owens. They say he’s full of himself, self-aggrandized, strutting around the football field like he’s walking on water. But it’s not true, Owens says. He’s humble. He’s meek.

And after all, he reminds us, “People hated on Jesus.”

And there it is. So true, so revealing. Almost poetry. In four words he compares the suffering of the Prince of Peace with his own persecution at the hands of grumpy Philadelphia football fans. But the same four words reveal a naïveté so complete, it’s almost endearing. It makes you smile, like listening to a splayfooted puppy barking at the night.

His dual nature presents itself in turns, light then dark, left then right, lurching into the public arena like a man wearing two different-colored shoes. He carries his team to the Super Bowl, then claims a $49 million contract can’t quite support his family. He makes a glorious, career-record 91-yard touchdown catch, and then days later verbally slaps his team on national television. We love him, then we hate him. A few months ago, Owens traveled to Houston, where he visited displaced hurricane victims. He helped distribute clothing and supplies at a shelter. He posed for photos. He autographed footballs, hats, Holy Bibles, jerseys. He tossed a ball and —

Hold on a minute. He autographed Bibles?

It seems absurd at first. A mere man — although fast, and a good jumper — reaching for a pen, then reaching for a Bible. And then signing his name to the Book, as though he authored it. And we’re left to wonder: What gives this man the Messianic impulse? Whence comes this splendid creature? And who on earth, pray, does he think he is?

Perhaps no one on earth at all. His recent banishment — he might say betrayal — by his team seems inevitable when we examine his whole life. It fits a pattern: his early survival, his rise, and now his breathtaking downfall. It’s a life full of struggle and strife. And it begins, after all, with a sort of immaculate conception.

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