May 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: May 2014

Can you guys believe tomorrow is June already?! May flew by so quickly. Here's what we read this month!

Sarah's Reads!

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
From "When Lily's fierce-hearted black 'stand-in mother,' Rosaleen, insults three of the town's most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come."

This was a very enjoyable, very easy read. The story was heartwarming and the characters (most of them at least) are easy to love. I really like Kidd's writing style and she did an excellent job of weaving together all of the themes in the story. No, this story is not just about bees, it's also about motherhood, racism, growing up, and many other things. This book was also made into a movie, which I have not seen, but I would like to. If you happen to stumble upon a copy at Goodwill like I did, give it a read!

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
From "It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie’s mother on a Sunday afternoon. The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle, where the eccentric Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted during World War II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives caring for their younger sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother’s past but soon learns there are other secrets hidden in its walls. The truth of what happened in 'the distant hours' has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. In this enthralling romantic thriller, Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love."

The Distant Hours was actually my April book club selection, but I didn't finish it in time (oops.) It just started off soooo slooooow and I had a really tough time getting interested. The story jumps around from present day to 1941 and tells the story from 5-6 different perspectives. It was a little tough to follow at times and some of the story lines were left open-ended, which can be a little frustrating. If you can get through the first half of the book, the second half is definitely more intriguing as the puzzle pieces start to fit together. The other members of my book club felt the same way I did and were extremely disappointed because they LOVE the other Kate Morton books they've read. Since her other works are highly recommended, I may check them out in the future, but I wouldn't read this again.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)
From "It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life. Read her diary. Enter her world. You will never forget her. For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction."

Go Ask Alice just didn't do it for me. To me, the book had a very "after-school special" vibe. I think what bothers me the most is that this book is advertised as a real diary, when in reality it is not. If a book is a work of fiction, I don't think it's fair to make a reader think it's non-fiction. Maybe my thoughts on this skewed my perception of the story, but oh well. It was a super quick read and I don't regret reading it, but if I'm going to read a book about drug addiction, I'd much rather read a REAL memoir.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale
From "Frank W. Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters, and escape artists in history. In his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot's uniform and copiloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks, all before he was twenty-one. Known by the police of twenty-six foreign countries and all fifty states as "The Skywayman," Abagnale lived a sumptuous life on the lam-until the law caught up with him. Now recognized as the nation's leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale is a charming rogue whose hilarious, stranger-than-fiction international escapades, and ingenious escapes-including one from an airplane-make Catch Me If You Can an irresistible tale of deceit."

I wasn't too impressed with this book. I have seen the movie before, and it was a lot of fun. The fact that I liked the movie so much was basically the entire reason I decided to read the book. That being said, with the expectations I had when I started it, I was easily let down. I'm not saying the book isn't interesting or written out of a truly incredible story; it was just a tad bit boring. I had to constantly remind myself that this is a TRUE story, and that these things really happened, because otherwise I would just zone out and breeze through the stories believing they were just mediocre stories of fiction.

My Rating: 2 Stars

See you guys next month!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Hey friends!

Things have been pretty nuts around here. We had an awesome Memorial Day weekend, hanging out with new friends and others we haven't seen in awhile. On Sunday we had a little BBQ at our apartment, which was a blast. We didn't do a bunch of photo-taking, but here are a few snaps from our weekend.

Anyone here yet?!

(My dress is H&M, sandals and sunglasses are both Forever 21)

Since we don't have a fire pit for roasting marshmallows, I decided to make a s'mores poke cake instead. I was planning to share the tutorial with you guys in a separate post, but... we totally caught the cake on fire in our broiler when we were trying to toast the marshmallows (oops.)

The face of someone who realizes they just set their cake on fire.

Sorry for the blurry final product photo... we were a little distracted putting out the fire! (Hope our landlord isn't reading this).

Anyway, this week and upcoming weekend are going to be totally crazy too... Nick's last day of school, parents in town, a concert on Friday, a music festival in Ohio on Saturday, and our neighborhood yard sale on Sunday. I'm exhausted (but excited!) just thinking about it.

We hope that you all had a great Memorial Day holiday and are enjoying the warmer weather (I think it's here to stay this time!) Later, dudes!

Sarah & Nick

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Color Coded Bookshelves

Maybe you guys have heard through the grapevine that Nick and I are big book lovers... (or maybe you've just checked out our monthly reads). Either way, our little library is one of our favorite parts of our apartment. We love real books and displaying them as little reminders of all the fun, scary, sad, happy, exciting adventures we've taken over the years with the characters we love. But not only that... our bookshelves are a great way for us to add color and life to our rented apartment.

Ever since I've started collecting books, I've always had a system for shelving them: alphabetical order by author's last name, all books in a series are shelved in chronological order, all unread books go on the bottom shelf, etc. I've even gone as far as putting non-series books by the same author in order by publication date... (I know, guys... I know.)

Lately though, our collection has grown quite a bit and our shelves have been looking like a big hodge podge of chaos. Even though I knew they were organized, they weren't very pleasing to the eye. We've been hardcore spring cleaning our apartment this past week, so we decided this was the perfect opportunity to switch things up a bit. I've been seeing a bunch of photos on Pinterest and other blogs of bookshelves organized by color and I love how they look. Plus, this seemed like a nice and easy way to spruce up our bookshelves for free, so we gave it a go!

This obviously doesn't require a tutorial, but here was our basic process:
- We pulled all of the books off the shelves and gave everything a good dusting
- Nick said over and over, "I can't believe you're allowing yourself to do this!"
- We sorted all of the books into piles by color
- Lastly, we put them back on the shelves in their new color groups
Easy peasy, huh?!

Honestly, I LOVE our color coded shelves. I think I love them even more than I love my old system. They're so much prettier and I think the shelves just look more cohesive. It'll be an adventure trying to find a book I'm looking for, but hey, that's what books are about, right?

Sarah & Nick

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Spinach Artichoke Chicken & Quinoa

When I saw this recipe on Pinterest, I knew we had to try it ASAP. Any way to fancy up some quinoa is A-OK with us, especially if the end result will taste like spinach artichoke dip. Let me tell you... we were not disappointed!

Spinach Artichoke Chicken & Quinoa (Adapted from A Family Feast)
Here's what you need!
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 1/2 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 4 cloves chopped garlic
- 1/2-3/4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken
- 8 oz. fresh spinach
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 block)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 7 oz. artichoke hearts (1/2 can)

Note: We cut our recipe in half from the original because the first time we made this, we had SO much. Even cut in half is plenty for two people and several days of leftovers. JSYK.

Here's what you do!
- Chop your onion, garlic, artichokes, and chicken into small pieces. Preheat broiler for final step.
- In a small pot, bring chicken stock to a boil. Add quinoa. Cover and cook for 12-15 minutes until quinoa is fully cooked.
- While quinoa is cooking, melt butter in an oven-proof skillet. Add olive oil, onion, and garlic. Saute over medium heat for three minutes.

- Add chicken to garlic and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until chicken is white. Add spinach and cook until the spinach is submerged and wilted.

- Next, add salt and pepper, heavy cream, cream cheese, half of the Parmesan, and half of the mozzarella. Heat and stir until all of the cheese has melted. Add your chopped artichokes and stir to combine.
- Turn off the heat to your skillet and mix in the cooked quinoa. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and mozzarella. Place under your broiler for 1-2 minutes to brown the cheese on top.

This dish was so creamy and delicious. We're still warming up to the quinoa craze happening right now, but this meal could be a game changer. This will definitely be something we make for dinner guests in the future!

Hope you guys have a great week!

Sarah & Nick

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Restaurant Passport

This month marks one year of Nick and I living in Pittsburgh. Now that we're completly settled in to Burgh Life, we're so excited for this summer so we can explore and do all of the fun things we didn't do last summer (probably because we found out about them too late!) Something we really want to do this summer is try new restaurants we haven't been to yet.

Before we moved here a year ago, we started a "Pittsburgh Restaurant Passport" with different places we wanted to try, but we haven't really used it at all. I think we just forgot about the trying new places thing once we found the ones we love (Hey, Franktuary! Hey, Hofbrauhaus!) There was also that whole paying rent, bills, student loans, and running out of money thing... (sigh).

But now we're ready for round 2! We decided to make a new restaurant passport and stick to it this time - even if it takes us years to complete! (Which is pretty likely... I mean this blog is about two kids on a strict budget!)

Want to make one for your town? Here's what you need! (And if you have a pen and some paper, this project is FREE!)
- Plain paper (We used standard 8.5x11")
- Scissors or Xacto knife
- Ruler
- Stapler
- Pens, markers, crayons, scrap paper, etc. for decorating
- List of restaurants (and any other info you want to include)

Here's what you do!
- Cut your paper in half widthwise (or hamburger style, as we said at Farmdale Elementary). I marked the center of my paper with tiny pencil marks and then cut along the marks using a ruler and an Xacto knife, on a cutting board. We used 7 sheets, so now we have 14 half sheets.

- Fold your half sheets in half widthwise and make a crease down the center. Staple 2-3 times down the crease to bind your pages together. Stapling can be a little tricky unless you have a large stapler. Our stapler is relatively small, so I laid my book unfolded on my wooden cutting board and stapled through the pages, directly into the board. Then I carefully pulled up my paper until the staple popped out of my cutting board. I used my ruler to fold down the ends of the staples.

- Now your book is bound and ready to be decorated and filled!

We used some pieces of leftover scrapbook paper (from our bunting!) to decorate the front of our passport. You can make yours as plain or detailed as you want!

We filled our book with 52 restaurants! Some were recommendations from friends, others are places we've driven by and would like to try, and some we had never even heard of. We tried to have a lot of variety in the styles of cuisine, price range, and type of meals. Some places are just little bakeries, others are "special occasion" types of restaurants. We also tried to pick places from a bunch of different neighborhoods so that we get to experience different parts of the city that we don't frequent.

Here's what we put on each page!
- Restaurant name
- Address
- Neighborhood (helpful for a big city!)
- Type of food
- Date we went
- Our thoughts

Other things you could include are x/10 rating, price range, what you ate (although we will probably include this under "Our thoughts", friend's recommendations, etc. This is your passport to fill in however you please! We used to get our restaurant addresses, neighboorhoods, and types of food. This is also a helpful source for finding places you haven't heard of before (compiling 52 restaurants wasn't easy!)

We're really excited to get started on our passport. This weekend we're already planning to get brunch at one of our picks!

Think you'll make a restaurant passport for your town? Let us know if you do! We'll be sure to check back in a few months to share some of our great finds!

Sarah & Nick

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Jalapeño‎ Popper Dip

Hi, everyone and happy Cinco de Mayo! We just want to say congrats to all of our friends who ran in the Pittsburgh Marathon yesterday! This was our first year living in Pittsburgh for the marathon and it was so much fun to watch and cheer on everyone as they ran through our neighborhood. You are all amazing!

Now that everyone can take a little break from those long months of training... how about feasting on an unhealthy (but so delicious!) snack? This weekend we made another recipe we snagged from Nick's mom... Jalapeno Popper Dip! (And to tell you the truth, I didn't even realize today was Cinco de Mayo until this afternoon! What a coincidence!)

Here's what you need!
(For dip)
- 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup mayo
- 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 oz. chopped green chiles
- 4 oz. sliced jalapeno peppers
(For topping)
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 stick butter

Here's what you do!
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
- Mix together your dip ingredients with a hand mixer and spread in a 9x13 baking dish.
- Melt butter in a small bowl and stir in the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese until coated. Sprinkle topping on the dip mixture.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, until dip is bubbly and topping is golden brown
- Serve warm with tortilla chips or crackers

This dip is the perfect amount of spicy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious.

Make this for your next pot luck or family gathering and it'll be an instant hit (and a nice change from the standard buffalo chicken dip!) It's also a pretty big hit in the Surznick house on a random Sunday night during playoff hockey... (and leftovers are just as good for Cinco de Mayo and more playoff hockey tonight!)

We hope you all have a great week!

Sarah & Nick

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