Michael Phelps brings new look to 'America's family'

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To readers wondering why I was so surprised that Michael Phelps brought a Vegas cocktail waitress who shows lots of skin on the Web home to Mom on Thanksgiving, allow me to explain.

I just thought he'd go for a Chico's Woman.

"We've become, I guess you'd say, an 'iconic family' around the world," Debbie Phelps says in an interview posted on the clothier's Web site. "So many people are reaching out not only to Michael but to myself with letters, emails, gifts. They all want to know more about us.

"People have been calling us 'America's family' and me 'America's mother.' It came at a right time for our country. With so many troubles happening, we're just a breath of fresh air because we're honest. True. Wholesome."

If only Norman Rockwell were still around. Caroline Pal would be the perfect addition to Freedom from Want.

Just a satellite kitchen
Charm City Cakes owner Duff Goldman went shopping for kitchen space in Los Angeles on a recent episode of his Food Network show, Ace of Cakes. And suddenly, egg whites weren't the only things getting whipped up.

"We've had Baltimore people very upset and L.A. people very excited," said Charm City Cakes manager Mary Alice Yeskey. "I've been getting e-mail from people thinking we're leaving. I'm getting e-mail from people in L.A. asking for jobs."

Her response, appropriate for overheated fans and buttercream alike: "Everybody, chill. Chill out."

Charm City Cakes is staying in Remington, Yeskey said. But Goldman is "exploring the possibility" of establishing a Los Angeles kitchen that he could use when movie studios out there ask him for cakes, Yeskey said.

It's possible that Goldman would open a second retail shop out of that kitchen. But it's waaay too early for Angelenos to start licking their chops, no matter how much pent-up demand there is out West for cakes shaped like pirogi, Ritalin bottles and armadillo EMTs.

"He's still in the zygote stage of research," Yeskey said.

So far the research has revealed this: The real estate meltdown hasn't done a thing to make L.A. affordable, at least to someone used to Baltimore prices.

"Jaw-droppingly expensive," is how Yeskey summed it up. "It's very humbling to hear millions bantered around easily. 'Oh, only two?'"

Goldman is considering an L.A. outpost because he's made cakes for several movie premieres, including the third Harry Potter movie and Kung Fu Panda. He'd like to do more. But he'd like it to get a little easier.

He's tried baking in Baltimore and shipping. He's tried using space in an L.A. culinary school. Either way it's difficult, even for a baker who thinks nothing of folding smoke machines and fireworks into his confections.

"They're huge and amazing opportunities that are painful to say no to, but if we don't have a place to work, we can't really bake a cake worthy of a movie premiere," Yeskey said. "Partially doing and shipping or trying to do it all in a borrowed kitchen 48 hours before a party was getting a little stressful."

Of course, all that stress makes for good TV.

"It's always ironic," she said. "When the TV crew is happy is when we're the most miserable."

Back from the darkness
The Prince of Darkness is back, as a freelancer.

Joe Steffen, ex-aide to former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, has launched a blog, darknessrising-steffen.blogspot.com.

"One time political hit man, hatchet man, muscle ... I'm back again with my own voice," he writes.

"Why am I back? To raise some hell, tweak some of the allegedly untweakable and, most importantly, to have some fun with politics and culture."

Steffen promises to be an "equal opportunity offender." He even celebrates the passage of slots, accomplished by the man Steffen once spread rumors about on the Internet. (He lost his state job in the process.)

Steffen said he'll mostly focus on current events, but he might offer some tidbits from his years as a political insider.

"I do expect there will be a Prince of Darkness Hall of Fame and certain people will be inducted."

Name's same; color's same
Mumbai's Cafe Leopold, already famous with backpackers and other tourists, became even more renowned for reopening soon after terrorist attacks in the Indian city. Its profile was raised so high that on the other side of the world, in Maryland, people who'd never before heard of the place were asking Anne Arundel County Exec John Leopold if he was somehow connected to the cafe.

Not as far as he knew, but Leopold decided to e-mail the cafe, offering congratulations for standing up to terrorists and inquiring about the name.

"Also, red is the Leopold color and I use it in my campaign material," he added because the color was prominent on the cafe's Web site.

To Leopold's surprise, he heard back.

Alas, the cafe is named for a Belgian king who is no relation to the county exec.

"And yes, red colour is the identity of leopold cafe and you may use it," wrote someone named Satya from the cafe. "Please do meet us next time whenever you are in Mumbai."

Leopold does not expect that to happen any time soon.

"With all my budget problems, I've curtailed all travel."
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