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Festive, quick-hit fare for the final shopping surge

All the smug, organized people have their presents wrapped and are warming their feet by the fireside, but for us procrastinators it is the seven-day countdown of terror.

All the smug, organized people have their presents wrapped and are warming their feet by the fireside, but for us procrastinators it is the seven-day countdown of terror.

Clearly we don't have time for a sit-down meal in a restaurant, but despite all the panic-buying we still need to find time for a bit of nourishment and a break from the long lines of other procrastinators.

You can multitask at the Christmas Village on the west side of Dilworth Plaza at City Hall and simultaneously eat and shop.

This is the second year the German Marketing Society has brought this German tradition to Philadelphia. During Christmas, every town in Germany creates a village of small wooden structures and it becomes a town-square gathering place for the holidays. The custom is to meet up, shop and - most especially - warm up with food and drink.

We began by warming up at the mulled-wine stand hosted by Chaddsford Winery. Seven dollars buys you a cup of wine plus the ceramic souvenir mug. I preferred the spicier Holiday Spirit over the sweeter Spiced Apple. Both were served too tepid to be truly warming.

The Grill stand offers authentic dishes from knockwurst or brockwurst sandwich ($5 each, $1 extra for sauerkraut) and they come from Reiker's, the well-known purveyor of German meats.

There is a businessman's lunch special during the day ($6) and the final week features Leberkase, a poor man's version of pate, if you will. Warm up with a bowl of hearty Goulash ($4) that was more like a stew and rich with vegetables.

For the sweet tooth, there is a Waffle and Crepe stand. The sautéed apple waffle ($5) came recommended by passersby. The waffle itself was outstanding - great texture and flavor. We discovered the texture comes from a little buckwheat flour in the mix.

The fruit topping was overly sweet and gooey for the taste team and the whipped cream came out of a can. Still, I'd go back and try the chocolate crepe.

There's also a stand with German Christmas treats. What caught the eye of my German taster were the Roasted Almonds ($4) and the Marzipan ($3). Both added to the authenticity of the village and the almonds were absolutely addictive.

The sleeper hit was the imported Bavarian pretzels ($2.50.) The obvious joke here, of course, is that importing soft pretzels to Philadelphia is like carrying coals to Newcastle.

These came frozen from Germany and have a vastly different texture from our soft pretzels. Bavarian pretzels have a crunchy exterior with an airier, yeastier interior.

The pretzel at the stand should have been warmed up a little more, but the pretzels warmed up in the oven at home were far better, achieving that crusty exterior.

But, if only Philly pretzels will do and you find yourself shopping for the unusual on Antiques Row or the devoutly-to-be-wished-for at Jewelers Row, then go to the Philly Pretzel Factory on 11th just north of Walnut.

Here you can grab a candy cane soft pretzel savory ($1.25) or sweet ($2).

The savory is a traditional soft pretzel you want to slather with mustard and the sweet is dusted with cinnamon and sugar and comes with a butter cream frosting dipping sauce that, frankly, is so oily and processed it should just remain in the container. That said, the cinnamon-and-sugar sweet pretzel is (ahem) a nice twist on the savory.

Owner Robert Gotlieb also offers a large array of holiday-inspired pretzels that can be special-ordered, including a snowman ($5) and a Christmas tree ($3). He also offered a menorah ($8) and dreidel ($2), so put that in your Filofax for next year as it is unique to this Philly Pretzel Factory location.

And, because this store is located across from Jefferson Hospital, there are several 20-minute pickup parking spots a stone's throw away. That's a convenience not to be sneered at this time of year.

If you find yourself as Santa's secret shopper in Rittenhouse Square, the ideal resting spot is Naked Chocolate on 18th, just north of Chestnut.

During the week this location offers soups, salads, quiches and paninis for lunch.

Naked and chocolate, though, imply decadence, so I always stick to one of my favorite guilty pleasures - a cup of European-style chocolate ($3.75).

This was elegantly served in a demitasse cup and so rich it required a spoon. The decadence was a mound of whipped cream and a cookie stick served on the side. Seriously, the small is all you need.

Finally, one last stop. Whether you are doing the Seven Fishes dinner Christmas Eve or just looking for a cookie tray, the Italian Market is sure to be on your route. Since you are probably having Italian later in the week, forgo the usual haunts and head over to 8th and Kimball for a steamy bowl of Bun Bo Hue at Cafe Diem. This Vietnamese soup is made of beef "parts" - don't ask what's in there or what part of the animal it comes from - and is a delicious cure-all. Whether you suffer from stress, an emerging cold or even too much office party, this will set you right.

Cafe Diem is a true hole-in-the-wall and not much English is spoken here, but you'll leave with your stomach full, your heart lighter and your wallet undamaged. Now onward, Blitzen, there's shopping to do.