April 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Surznick Reads: April 2014

April reads are here!

Sarah's Reads!

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
From Amazon.com: "... the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages ... Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness. Angela’s Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic."

I've read a few memoirs, but most of them span 30-40-50 years of a person's life. Angela's Ashes is the first of Frank McCourt's THREE memoirs. This one covers the first 19 years of his life, which were pretty much the same year after year. Every year his father drank away all of their money. Every year it was cold and they couldn't afford warm clothing or coal to heat with. Every year I was becoming less interested in Frank McCourt's life. All in all... I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. There were times I was so bored but there were also times that made me laugh. Would I read it again? No, but I'll probably read his next memoir. I hope his 20's were a little less depressing!

My Rating: 3 Stars

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
From Amazon.com: "Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation... In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains... Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town and the family Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape... As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms."

Yep, two memoirs in a row this month. Like I said, I've read quite a few in my day, but this was by far the best. Not only the best memoir I've read, but one of the best books. Jeannette Walls' story is absolutely incredible. Her writing style is readable, hilarious, and she conveys her family's personalities so well that you feel like another Walls sibling. It was such an inspiration to see where Walls came from and how much she's accomplished today. The Glass Castle actually reminded me of Angela's Ashes in many aspects, but is much more readable and relatable. I've been pretty much begging Nick to read this since I put it down. Check this out and I'm sure it won't disappoint.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
From Amazon.com: "Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television 'family.' But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life."

I know I'm late to the party, but I finally read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. I have to say... I wasn't that impressed. Maybe it's the whole dystopian future thing. You may remember from our February post that I wasn't wild about 1984 or Brave New World either. I just wasn't captivated by the story or the characters. Most of the story I wasn't even positive what was going on, nor did I care enough to try and figure it out. Luckily this is a short read, so I never felt as though I was forcing myself to finish it. Like I said in my review of 1984, I probably won't read it again, but this book is deemed a literary classic, so I'm glad I read it at least once.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Nick's Read!

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
From Amazon.com: "In his prime, Edward Bloom was an extraordinary man. He could outrun anybody. He never missed a day of school. He saved lives and tamed giants. Animals loved him, people loved him, women loved him. He knew more jokes than any man alive. At least that’s what he told his son, William. But now Edward Bloom is dying, and William wants desperately to know the truth about his elusive father—this indefatigable teller of tall tales—before it’s too late. So, using the few facts he knows, William re-creates Edward’s life in a series of legends and myths, through which he begins to understand his father’s great feats, and his great failings. The result is hilarious and wrenching, tender and outrageous."

This was a pretty okay book for me. I've seen the movie (a long time ago) and enjoyed it, so I went into reading the book believing I would it enjoy it in the same way. However, the book is literally just a series of stories. One story after another. I'm sure if I was really interested, I could tie them together and understand some greater synthesis about it all, but generally speaking, I didn't. Don't get me wrong, each of the stories was very entertaining. They all channeled the sort of "tall tale" genre that is always very fantastic and a lot of fun to read. However, since the stories all pretty much ended at the end of each chapter, it made the book lack a certain continuity, or even a strong sense of plot. All in all, I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't quite what I had hoped it would be.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Homemade Stromboli

One of my all time favorite dishes growing up was my Mom's fantastic homemade Stromboli. When I got the oyster cracker recipe from her a while back, I snagged this recipe, too. It is too good not to share.

The recipe is a bit longer than our usual posts, but it's so worth it. We're going to prepare a pizza crust, a flavor spread, and toppings.

Here's what you need for the crust:
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 2 tbsp. oil
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt

Here's how you prepare the crust:
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, then add the remaining ingredients.
- Mix vigorously and let rest 5 minutes.

While the crust is rising, prepare the most fantastic/flavorful spread of all time.
(*Preheat your oven! 350 degrees.)

Here's what you need for the spread:
- 2 egg yolks (save your egg whites for later!)
- 1 tbsp. parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp. parsley
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. garlic powder

Press your pizza crust to fill a greased cookie sheet. Using a spoon or brush, spread your mixture all over your pizza crust, coating it evenly.

Layer your toppings on top of the crust and spread.

Toppings we used (you can use whatever you want!):
- Sliced Ham
- Salami
- Pepperoni
- Mozzarella Cheese

Fold in the sides of your dough to meet in the middle and pinch the edges together tightly to close up the Stromboli. You can see that mine split open after baking, so make sure you have enough dough to properly close it up.

Use your egg whites from earlier to spread on top of your closed Stromboli. This is going to help it look awesome and get a crisp, golden brown crust after it bakes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes.

And there you have it! I have to give an early Mother's Day shout out to my Mom (Nick's mom) for letting me share her recipes on the blog - thank you! The flavorful spread is what really sets this dish apart from a typical homemade pizza or something similar. Dip your Stromboli in your favorite marinara sauce, or enjoy it plain!

Sarah & Nick

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Knitted T-Shirt Rug

Lately I've been really wanting to try my hand at making a rug. Nothing big or fancy, just a small rug to put in front of our kitchen sink. I've seen lots of other bloggers weave or braid their own rugs, but I've been on a knitting kick lately (remember this and this?), so I decided I would knit one!

It just so happens that I already had the fabric I needed lying around our house (and I bet you have it too): t-shirts! Nick and I have ton of t-shirts that were either already in a pile for Goodwill or were put in a drawer and rarely worn. T-shirts were a perfect candidate for our rug fabric because they're soft, we didn't feel bad about cutting them up, and most importantly, they're free!

Since I planned to knit my rug, my first step was to make "t-shirt yarn." Here's how you do it!
- Lay your t-shirt out flat on the floor or table.
- Cut straight across the shirt, right underneath where the arm holes start. Also cut off the bottom seam. You should be left with rectangle piece of fabric (basically the torso part of the shirt).
- Starting from the side of the t-shirt, cut 3/4-1" strips across the shirt, leaving about a 1" allowance at the other end. (I didn't measure while doing this, just be careful not to make your strips too thin or they may rip later.)

- Next, unfold your seam allowance and make diagonal cuts between the strips in order to make one continuous strip (i.e. outside to strip 1, strip 1 to strip 2, strip 2 to strip 3, etc.)

- Now you should have one really long strip of t-shirt. In order to turn this into yarn, gently pull on the strip. The sides will curl in, making it circular.

- Do this for the entire length of t-shirt strip. Once you're done, roll it into a ball and you're ready to knit!

Knitted T-Shirt Rug
You need:
- T-shirt yarn (I used 12 shirts, not all of them in their entirety)
- Large knitting needles (I used size 15)
- Scissors
- Safety pin

Here's what what you do!
- First determine your size and pattern. I decided to knit my rug in two panels (since you can only fit so many stitches on a knitting needle) and sew them together.
- Panel 1: Cast on 18 stitches. Knit until you have about 6" of yarn remaining. Work in your next ball of yarn and continue knitting. Repeat this process until you reach your desired length. Cast off.
- Note: I didn't pre-determine the length of my rug. After my 5th ball of yarn/color block, I was satisfied with the length. Since I wanted my pattern to be similarly sized color blocks, I knew another entire ball of yarn/color block would make my rug too long.

- Panel 2: Repeat the steps above for your second panel.
- Helpful tip: Since my first panel established the length of my rug, I made sure that the final color block of my second panel was a color that I had multiple of (in my case, white). When I reached the end of my first white ball of yarn, I had not yet reached the length needed to match panel 1, so I had to work in another ball.
- Your panels will have several pieces of yarn hanging out of them from casting on/off and working in new balls of yarn. We need to sew these into the rug to hide them. Since I don't have a needle with an eye large enough for t-shirt yarn, I decided to put a safety pin through the end of the yarn pieces and work the safety pin through the panels.

- Now it's time to sew the panels together! I figured the most durable way to do this would be to use more t-shirt yarn. Using the same process as above, I put a safety pin through the end of my yarn and sewed the two panels together, knotting tightly at each end. I also wove my yarn through the stitches to further strengthen the seam and also make it look a little cleaner. Again, I used the safety pin to sew in the end pieces.

What do you guys think?! The rug is pretty squishy and super comfy to stand on. I love the color it brings into our dark, neutral kitchen. And it's much better to stand on than that hard stone floor!

I'm really happy with how it turned out for my first rug knitting attempt! The only money I spent for this project was $3.00 for a pair of needles, since I didn't have any large enough. Not too shabby, huh?

Anyone else have ideas for repurposing some old t-shirts?

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Carrot Poke Cake

Here in the Surznick house, we loooove poke cakes. Last year for my birthday Nick made me a banana creme poke cake and you may remember this one that I made for his birthday (so good!) One of my favorite cakes to eat during the Easter holiday is a carrot cake, so this year we decided to make a poke cake version!

Here's what you need! (Recipe adapted from SomethingSwanky.com)
- Boxed carrot cake mix and the ingredients listed on the box (or homemade, if you prefer)
- 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
- 8 oz. whipped topping
- 10.6 oz. Cool Whip brand cream cheese frosting (in the freezer aisle with the whipped topping)
- 6 oz. whipped cream cheese (plain)
- Caramel sauce (as much or as little as you want)
- Chopped nuts (recipe calls for pecans, we opted for the cheaper "ice cream topping nuts")

Here's what you do!

- First, pull your whipped topping, frosting, and cream cheese out of the fridge/freezer to allow it to soften.
- In a 9x13" pan, bake your cake as instructed on the box.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Using the end of a wooden spoon (or whatever else you can find) poke holes all over the top of the cake.

- Pour the sweetened condensed milk on top of the cake and use a knife of spatula to fill the holes as much as possible.

- In a large bowl, combine the whipped topping, frosting, and cream cheese with a mixer until smooth.
- Spread your frosting mixture on top of the cake. You will have a ton of frosting. We only used about 1/2-3/4 of ours.
- Pour the caramel sauce on top of the cake and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. It's tempting to eat right away but this cake definitely gets better overnight!

This cake was seriously delicious, but when we make it again I'm going to go heavier on the frosting and lighter on the caramel. The caramel can be a little overpowering and you definitely don't want to mask the best part of the cake... cream cheese frosting!

And here's an added bonus! If you find that you have a bunch of leftover frosting, you can do what we did and make frosted carrot cake cookies! We made these just like our strawberry and red velvet cake cookies. YUM.

We hope you all have a lovely Easter holiday!

Sarah & Nick

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Concert Clothes

Nick and I had such a fun week! We went to two concerts, both of which were aweeeesomeee. On Monday we saw Langhorne Slim & The Law and Thursday night we saw Eisley and Merriment. I love going to concerts on weeknights because they make the week so much faster and give us something fun to do after working all day. Plus, concerts give me a chance to wear my "normal" clothes that I can't really wear to work since I have to dress business casual.

Here's a little recap of what we wore and some iPhone snaps from each show!

Nick: Jeans\Levi's,  Shirt\H&M,  Sneakers\Adidas Sambas,  Hat\Ehh probably Walmart
Sarah: Jeans\Old Navy,  Shirt\Old Navy,  Booties\ModCloth,  Purse\Urban Outfitters

Nick: Shorts\Vans cutoffs,  Shirt\H&M,  Sneakers\Adidas Sambas again,  Sunglasses\From a gas station (thanks, Gino)
Sarah: Dress (& Belt)\Forever 21,  D'Orsay Flats\Old Navy,  Purse\Target

By the way... have you guys made our seasoned oyster crackers from the last post? I'm eating them as I type this... SO GOOD. Have a fun weekend!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Seasoned Oyster Crackers

My whole life, my mom has made these awesome seasoned oyster crackers. I typically associate the smell and flavor of these with Christmas time, but since they're so good and I'm old enough to make my own decisions, I can make them in April! Right?

Here's what you need:
- 12 - 16 oz oyster crackers
- 1 package Ranch Dressing Seasoning
- 1/4 tsp lemon pepper
- 1/2 tsp dill weed
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 3/4 - 1 cup oil

Here's what you do:
- Mix the seasonings and oil in a small bowl.
- In a large bowl, pour mixture over oyster crackers and stir until evenly coated.
- Bake on a cookie sheet 15 - 20 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring occasionally.
- Spread them out on a paper towel to cool and absorb some of the excess oil.

It's that simple. Since Sarah and I typically favor salty snacks over sweet snacks, this is a perfect treat to have while binge watching True Detective, or whatever HBO series we may be obsessed with at the time.

Sarah & Nick

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bedroom Tour

Over the last few months we've shown bits and pieces of our bedroom, but we decided that it's finally time to show the whole shebang! As with every room in our house, there is more we'd like to add or change, but with time, money, and renting constraints, it's not always feasible. I think we've finally reached a place where we're super happy with our bedroom, so we hope you like it too!

When we moved into our apartment, the bedroom was just a tiny white box; white walls, ceiling, doors, carpet, etc. You'd think this would make the room nice and bright, but it's not. This room used to have two windows, but our landlord closed one of them up (a travesty). The remaining window is in the alley between our house and our neighbor's, so natural light is almost nonexistent (and therefore it's pretty tricky to get decent quality photos - sorry guys!)

We wanted to keep the room feeling as light as we could, so everything that started white has stayed white (as if we could really change it anyway, #renterproblems). To make the room feel a little less plain jane, we've added pops of color and personality that really make the room feel like ours.

Our favorite part of the bedroom by far is this entire wall. We decorated it with colorful homemade bunting (tutorial here) and made a little gallery wall with a bunch of art and photos we love. Everything on this wall means something to us in someway or another. Some of it is homemade, some was purchased, and some was just ripped out of a magazine, but it's all important to us (or at the very least, makes us happy!) Here's a little bit of info about each piece:

1. Painted Lyric Art: Inspired by this project from A Beautiful Mess, I just wanted to make something super simple with lyrics from a song I love. I think the lyrics are definitely fitting for us too.
2. 3 Hands Art: This is something I actually made in a high school art class. It's my initials in sign language! Nick and I found it at my mom's house a few months ago and thought it would be fun to frame and hang.
3. B&W Photo: This is a photo of Steinman Park in Lancaster City that I took for my high school photo class. It reminds me of home, so it's been hung up somewhere in every apartment I've lived in.
4. Andy Warhol Photo: We love this colorful photo of Andy and his flowers.
5&6. Magazine Photos: We found these little photos in Carnegie Magazine. Number 6 is actually a photo of an exhibit that was outside my work this past fall. Just little reminders of where we live!
7. Alexis Bledel Photo: First of all, it is not weird to have a photo of Rory Gilmore on my bedroom wall. People hang photos of Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley, so I get to hang up Rory. Alexis Bledel is gorgeous, plus I'm like the world's biggest GG fan, and I love the quote on it: "Love is not the way it is in the movies." I ripped this photo out of a magazine probably 10 years ago and I had it hanging on my bedroom wall in high school. Clearly, I still love it.
8. Sherri DuPree Bemis Print: We LOVE Sherri. She's the singer of Eisley & Perma, wife of Max, mom to the adorable Lucy, and an artist! (The gal does it all). The last time Sherri came through Pittsburgh we picked up this print at her show. You can see more in her online shop. We're actually seeing Eisley again in three days and we can't wait!
9. The Avett Brothers Print: We're ginormous TAB fans (but you probably knew that). This print was purchased from their online merch store. In addition to loving the print itself, we also love that it was created for a show we went to.

The newest addition to our bedroom is the pom-pom tree we made recently. This is probably the easiest project we've ever done but it has a big impact! You can see the tutorial here.

We shared this project a few weeks ago, but in case you missed it you can read about it here! We made wallpaper out of Kraft paper and Sharpies for our closet doors. We love how they turned out!

Up until about a year ago, Nick and I were using tray tables as our nightstands. Then we found these awesome nightstands from Salvation Army for $5 apiece. The design is so unique and we couldn't pass up the price so we brought them home and gave them a little makeover. Here's a before/after shot!

After cleaning and sanding, we painted them in two shades of gray and switched out the knobs. Good as new!

Nick bought me this "Tambo" print for my birthday a few years ago. The artist is Colin Frangicetto (of the bands Circa Survive and Psychic Babble). I'm proud to support the work of any of the Circa guys, and this print is no exception. You can see more of Colin's artwork here.

Above our bed you'll find two projects we shared here on the blog: our Triangle Wall Art and Wire Goodnight Sign.

We've mentioned before that our bed is wider than the wall behind it, which makes having a headboard kind of difficult. As a headboard alternative, we've decorated the wall with these two projects. We love them both! We especially like the all of the colors that the triangle art brings to the this side of the room.

The last stop on the tour is Jewelry HQ! I love keys, so a friend of mine gifted me this key hook a few years ago. It's perfect for holding all of my necklaces and keeping them organized. The wooden jewelry holder is from Urban Outfitters.

My favorite is definitely the vintage rubber stamp carousel turned bracelet holder. This stamp holder was one of the goodies I brought home from work a few months ago when we cleaned out our office (the same day I brought home the file folders for the triangle wall art!) My boss was going to throw it away, and I couldn't let that happen. It sat unused on our bookshelf for awhile, but I'm glad it now has a function in our home.

And that's it! Like we mentioned when we shared our Living Room Tour, a lot of the items in this room were thrifted, gifted, or homemade, and I think that's what we love the most. If you have questions about anything we shared, don't hesitate to ask us!

Sarah & Nick