Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Cookies for the Homeless 2013

For most people, the sight and smell of homemade cookies baking in an oven is a holiday tradition. However, there are homeless individuals and families who cannot join in this baking ritual.

I was surprised to find out that in my own county there are 472 homeless children (according to the Community Foundation of Howard County). This is a huge number considering that we are one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

For the past three years, Charles and I have participated in an event called Holiday Cookies for the Homeless. Lisa Jablonover started the program to collect homemade cookies and donate the sweets to the Day Resource Center, where the cookies are distributed to those less fortunate.

Sorting the cookies into small packages
2011 was the first year we participated in the holiday program when Charles and I baked cream cheese cookies (click here to read our blog post).  The did a story about our contributions to the program here.

Last year, we organized a cookie drive by seeking the help of clubs in our high school to make a much bigger cookie donation. (read our blog post here).

Counting the cookie donations
This year, Charles and I organized the holiday cookie food drive again. Since my brother and I run our school's Italian club, we asked our club and other clubs to bake homemade cookies for the fundraiser.

                                    By the end of the day, students in the National Honor Society, Horizon, Best Buddies, Salvation Army and Red Cross and Italian clubs made over 800 homemade cookies. Combined with Lisa Jablonover's bakers, in total almost 2,000 holiday cookies were donated to the Day Resource Center and Grassroots Homeless Shelter.

Some of the Italian Club members after counting and sorting the 2013 holiday cookies
We look forward to participating in this program every year. While baking cookies seems like an ordinary thing to do -- it is very special to those who don't own a home to cook in.

Thanks to Lisa Jablonover for starting this program.  And a shout out to our Grandma Alberta who told us about it. We're definitely doing it again next year. 

- Thomas

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shakeup milkshakes

Update - CLOSED 

Ever heard of a healthy milkshake?  We hadn't either.  That's until we were invited to try a good-for-you (AND great tasting) milkshake from Shakeup  - a dairy and non-diary lab.  

We visited their second U.S. location, a kiosk in The Mall in Columbia (Maryland), that just opened a few weeks ago.  

According to Shakeup, they invented a shake that is made with 100% natural ingredients. That means there's no preservative, artificial flavors or colors. 

Plus the shakes are enriched with dietary pre-biotic fibers, vitamins and minerals - all without compromising the creamy, richness of a traditional milkshake.  

Shakeup worked with a food engineer and a chef to develop this secret base formula. 

Here's how it works:  
(1) choose your flavor
(2) pick a size  - Small ($4.69), Medium ($5.99) or Large ($6.99), then
(2) determine a dairy or non-dairy base - regular, low fat or soy (sugar free coming soon)

There are over 150 different flavor combinations that can be added to the base to make shakes - like banana and nutella, cookies n' cream, and coffee and caramel. 

Or make your own custom shake.  For low cal, add different fresh fruit to the base (240 calories/small before adding flavors).  Or splurge by adding candies and cereals such as Fruit Loops, Snickers or Kit Kats to the base. 

Thomas and I tried four shake flavors -  the pecan pie, Irish cream, pineapple and strawberry, and pumpkin cheesecake. 

It's hard to believe these are healthy milkshakes.  The drinks were so creamy and thick that Shakeup gives you both a straw and spoon. 

The flavors in each shake were incredible - each ingredient was distinguishable but none was too strong or too sweet.  My favorite was the pecan pie that didn't disappoint in the carmel flavor department. 

Each shake comes with an optional and FREE topping of fresh (made daily) whipped cream. 

                                                                          We liked the shakes so much that we asked the Shakeup girl to take a photo with us.  

Good news for Howard County high school students - just present your school ID and get a 10% discount on any shake. 

The Shakeup team is also offering a free taste to local bloggers. Contact the Shakeup U.S. project manager Mr. T (Tsachee) Zilberfarb at to schedule a visit. 

UPDATE - My original post has the incorrect email for Mr. T (Tsachee) Zilberfarb. The correct email (  is now listed. 


Shakeup Lab on Urbanspoon

The Mall in Columbia
Lower level (Next to food court across from Five Guys)

Towson Town Center
Grand Court Level 1

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

al Sospiro Trattoria Romana - Olney, Maryland

al Sospiro Trattoria is a cozy little Italian restaurant in Olney that offers only dinner service.

Since it's located on a busy road (Georgia Ave) we thought it would be easy to find. But we almost passed the entrance because of the small awning sign.

Once inside, there is a small upstairs dining room where we were directed by a sign to go downstairs to the main dinning room.

Upstairs dinning room 

Downstairs main dining room 

The main dining room was minimally but tastefully decorated with Italian stones, tiles and ceramics.

Shortly after we arrived, we were served a basket of warm bread and oil.  Both were disappointing.  The oil was tasteless - had no hint of a spice or garlic. The bread spongy.

Next we ordered four appetizers to share.

 Mussels in White Wine and Garlic Sauce
The mussels were soft and cooked to
perfection and the garlicky sauce, thin 
but very flavorful. 

Eggplant Parmesan appetizer - Although this had an awesome presentation and extremely fresh mozzarella, it was too cheesy for my taste. I would have preferred more eggplant and less cheese. Plus, I missed the tomato sauce of a traditional eggplant parmesan. 


Organic field greens with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. I still prefer a tossed salad to a lettuce wedge salad but the delicious dressing was worth ordering the dish again.  

Beef tenderloin meatballs in tomato sauce appetizer.  Being Italian we've tasted our share of meatballs.  I have to say this is one of the best. Although they were small in size, the soft and smooth texture of the meat was delicate with tiny hints of spices and garlic.  

The main dishes were impressive.  My father ordered large shrimps, calamari, mussels and clams over linguini in a light spicy marinara sauce. He liked that the sauce had a bit of a kick that didn't overpower the tomato taste.  The dish was chuck full of seafood and pasta - both were cooked just right.  

I ordered the grilled beef tenderloin with sautéed onions and roasted potatoes.  It was amazing! The sweet onions coupled with the tender, flavorful meat made this dish. 

Thomas ordered the chicken breasts in white wine and red bell peppers with a side of 
roasted potatoes. The meat was carefully seared on the outside but juicy and 
tender on the inside. Complimented by the sweet peppers and 
the savory potatoes, this is a winner. 

My mom ordered the peppercorn pan seared tuna with zucchini. She normally doesn't order tuna because she said it is easy to overcook and can be dry. This dish didn't disappoint.  The meat was moist and lightly seasoned so that the flavor of the fish shined.
grilled zucchini 

Definitely try al Sospiro for authentic Italian food. We were seated right away because we got there just when dinner started but it's a small place so you may have to wait for a table if it's crowded.

al Sospiro Trattoria Romana
18035 Georgia Avenue
Olney, MD 20832

- Charles

al Sospiro Trattoria Romana on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Classic Cheesecake for Thanksgiving - recipe

It's Thanksgiving and we have many things to be grateful for. 

Last week, we were voted the 4th top food blog in the Baltimore Sun's Mobbies competition. Thank you to everyone who voted for us! 

This week we're celebrating the holiday with family and friends. Our family Thanksgiving tradition is to create a large homemade dessert table filled with a crazy amount of different types of sweets. 

So we decided to contribute a homemade dessert. We found a recipe for Classic Cheesecake
(our favorite dessert!) on -
Classic Cheesecake - Photo courtesy of 

Cutting butter in small pieces to melt in a pan or microwave 

Make the grahams crackers crumbs  

Beating the mixture of eggs, vanilla, sugar, cream cheese,
lemon zest, orange zest, and sour cream. 

 Mix the remaining butter with graham cracker crumbs, sugar and a pinch of salt until it's well mixed and crumbly. Then press the crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of the springform pan.  Bake and cool. 
Crack and beat six eggs

Pour the cheesecake batter into the pan. Then wrap the bottom and sides in tin foil

Pour hot water around the cheesecake. Careful when you put the roasting pan in or out of the oven - the water surrounding the cheesecake pan makes it very heavy

Charles putting the sour cream topping on the cheesecake to bake another 5 minutes

The final product!  The house smelled fantastic - hints of sweet vanilla and  cream cheese filled the air. 

Viola! Here is the outcome of all that work, a perfect classic cheesecake with sour cream and fresh berry toppings.

Check out this Classic Cheesecake from here or find other Thanksgiving recipes here.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

- Thomas