June 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Monday, June 30, 2014

Surznick Reads: June 2014

Halfway through 2014 already! Holy crap! This first half of the year has been a total success for our reading goals. Here's where we stand as of now:

Annual Goal = 36 books
Read so far = 23 books
Favorite so far = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Least favorite so far = Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Surz is feeling preeeeetty baller... I'm 6 books ahead of schedule! Maybe I'll break last year's record of 40 books. Only time will tell...

Annual Goal = 12 books
Read so far = 10 books
Favorite so far = Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
Least favorite so far = Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

Considering that my goal is 12 books and I'm currently reading book #11, I'm pretty happy. I can't count the number of years in my life where my annual total was ZERO books. I can't wait to see my total after 6 more months!

Remember, you can find any of our monthly Surznick Reads posts here. Or if you just want to see how pretty all of our books look on our shelves, you can do that here. Okay, back on track now... here are our June books.

Sarah's Reads!

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
From Amazon.com: "Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know."

Believe it or not, this is my first Vonnegut book. Even though he's Nick's favorite author, I've just never had any interest in Vonnegut before. Slaughterhouse-Five was pretty average to me. Vonnegut's writing style is just a little dry and choppy for my taste. The fact that the time and setting in Slaughterhouse-Five changes every couple of paragraphs didn't help either. Overall, I wouldn't read this again, but Nick urges me to read Breakfast of Champions, so I guess I haven't given up on Vonnegut for good.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
From Amazon.com: "With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there."

Unless you're living under a rock, I'm sure you know all about OITNB. As a huge fan of the Netflix series, I was really eager to read Kerman's memoir and convinced my book club leader to put it on our schedule. I loved this book. I'm a sucker for a good memoir and Kerman wrote a great one. Her story is inspirational and the recollection of her experience in prison is captivating. If you've watched the show perhaps you, like me, were surprised at what a federal women's prison is like. The stories about the relationships Kerman had with other inmates were heartwarming and relatable. I was also happily surprised at how well the show portrays what's in this memoir. Many of the characters have different names on the series, but you can still picture each character as you're reading. If you're a fan of OITNB the series, or even if you're not, this is a must-read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
From Amazon.com: "A mysterious island.

 An abandoned orphanage.

 A strange collection of very curious photographs.

 It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. 

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows."

This was very cool. Sarah read it awhile back and highly recommended it. I was not disappointed. I was happy to know that the story didn't rely too heavily on the photos, but that they instead added great detail to the story. As if the imagery in the book wasn't fantastic to begin with (it really is) the photos add even more to that. The plot is unique, exciting, and mysterious. Riggs held my attention from page one and didn't let go. I highly recommend this for anyone, and I can't wait to read the second book!

My Rating: 5 Stars

(See Sarah's review of this book here)

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
From Amazon.com: "Countless writers and artists have spoken for a generation, but no one has done it quite like Chuck Klosterman. With an exhaustive knowledge of popular culture and an almost effortless ability to spin brilliant prose out of unlikely subject matter, Klosterman attacks the entire spectrum of postmodern America: reality TV, Internet porn, Pamela Anderson, literary Jesus freaks, and the real difference between apples and oranges (of which there is none). And don’t even get him started on his love life and the whole Harry-Met-Sally situation. Whether deconstructing Saved by the Bell episodes or the artistic legacy of Billy Joel, the symbolic importance of The Empire Strikes Back or the Celtics/Lakers rivalry, Chuck will make you think, he’ll make you laugh, and he’ll drive you insane—usually all at once."

I really like Chuck Klosterman, I really do. However, I have to admit that this book was a bit exhausting. I enjoy his commentary on all aspects of popular culture, as he has incredible insight and theories surrounding almost EVERY part of our world (from The Sims to MTV to Pamela Anderson to U2 to the Celtics vs. the Lakers). He is often funny but even more often long-winded. The book is full of words and phrases like "inasmuch" and "in and of itself" and can at times feel very "wordy." His thoughts are truly unique and entertaining, but I sometimes wish there was an easier way for him to convey them to the reader.

My Rating: 3 Stars

See you next month!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Our Summer To-Do List

Summer has officially arrived and we're so excited for all the fun stuff to do here in Pittsburgh over the next few months. Though I've already jotted down a couple things I would like to, I was inspired by Emily at Cupcakes and Cashmere to make a concise to-do list of things I want to accomplish by the time fall rolls around (and because crossing things off a list is oh so satisfying).

Sticking with the our, "How can I do this without spending too much money?" theme, Nick and I each made a list of free/inexpensive things we want to do this summer. Some are just things that I know I'll never do unless I put it on this list, but others I'm actually really looking forward to. Here we go!

Sarah's list:
1. Write down recipes that I've made (and liked) on recipe cards and delete them from my Pinterest board.
2. Go to an outdoor movie (or a bunch of them!)
3. Try 5 new restaurants on our restaurant passport.
4. Buy our fruits and veggies from the farmer's market as often as possible.
5. Repaint our dining room table and chairs.
6. Successfully learn how to use the manual setting on our camera.
7. Have friends over for a BBQ.
8. Plan out our meals every week.
9. Have a picnic at Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch.
10. Find/make/upcycle a coffee table for our dining room.

Nick's list:
1. See a movie at the drive-in.
2. Run 30 miles/month.
3. Organize my school materials into filing cabinets.
4. Go to a free summer concert at Hartwood Acres.
5. Do more weekend schoolwork/planning outside.
6. Make my own veggie burgers.
7. Expand my vinyl collection.
8. Make music with friends.
9. Sample whiskey somewhere cool.
10. Tour a new brewery.

We'll check back in with you in 3 months to let you know how we did! Anyone else have a to-do list or goals for the summer?

Sarah & Nick

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Easy DIY Chain Bracelets

I've been wanting to make these chain hair tie bracelets from I Spy DIY ever since I saw them and I finally got around to it last week. You guys. This was so easy. Ridiculously easy. I've never been much for making my own jewelry, except for embroidery floss friendship bracelets in elementary school, but maybe I need to rethink my choices.

I made mine slightly different than Jenni, as she is using hers for her hair, while I want mine to be just bracelets.

Here's what you need!
- Elastic hair ties
- Chain
- Jump rings
- Pliers

Note: I purchased my chain from Jo-Ann Fabric. If you're thinking you can get small chain at Home Depot, don't even try it. All of their chain is ginormous and industrial strength. Chain from the jewelry section of a craft store is the way to go!

Here's what you do!
- Create a small length of chain (about half the circumference of your wrist) using your pliers or fingers. My chain was super easy to open and close with my fingers.

- Open the chain link at the end and insert your hair tie. Close the link.

- Put two jump rings over your hair tie. Open the link at the other end of the chain and insert the other end of the hair tie. Close the link. Try to make sure that your chain is flat when you're doing this. If it gets twisted, just reopen one of the links and straigten it out.
- Use your pliers to tighten the jump rings at the end of each hair tie, close to the chain. This will help keep the sides of the hair tie together.

- Wear 'em!

See?! How easy was that?! This project was also super cheap and customizable. I didn't buy any hair ties, as I already have an arsenal of black ones on hand. But hair ties are inexpensive and come in tons of colors. There are also a lot of options when it comes to color and style of chain. Really - the possibilities are endless!

Total cost for chain + jump rings = $7.57. So far I've made 7 bracelets and I have enough chain left to make about 10-11 more. So $0.42 per bracelet ain't too shabby if you ask me!

xo, Sarah

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Concert Clothes Pt. 2

Happy first day of summer, ladies and gents! It's certainly felt like summer for awhile now, especially this past week with temperatures in the 80's and 90's every day. Nick and I got to enjoy the warm weather quite a bit this week as we went to 3 2 outdoor concerts! (One was moved inside due to inclement weather).

You may know by now that we are big concert lovers. We're fortunate enough to be given free tickets to a lot of the shows we attend, and we're extremely grateful because our budget wouldn't allow for it otherwise. This past week we saw the Arctic Monkeys, Tegan & Sara, and Eve 6 & Everclear (hello, 90s!) They were all so fun and gave me a chance to get out of my dress clothes and into some casual concert wear. Here's a recap of what I wore and some iPhone shots of each show. (By the way, if you missed Concert Clothes Pt. 1 you can read it here!)

This skirt and shirt have been in my closet for years now, but I keep coming back to them every summer. I love easy, breezy pieces for outdoor concerts!

Skirt\Forever 21,  Lace Shirt\American Eagle,  Sandals\Target

I've always been hesitant to try maxi dresses because a) I never thought they would be flattering on me, and b) I didn't want to hem them to fit my 5'4" frame. But I am pleased to say that I now have two maxi dresses and a maxi skirt and I love them all! This one didn't require any hemming and it cost me only $6 (oh yeah, oh yeah!)

Maxi Dress\H&M,  Belt\Forever 21,  Sandals\Forever 21,  Chain Bracelets\Homemade! (Tutorial here)

I've been living in this straw hat over the past month for flea markets, festivals, and concerts. It's definitely my favorite purchase for the summer!

Romper\TJ Maxx,  Straw Hat\H&M,  Moccasins\Minnetonka

We hope you all have a great weekend and enjoy your first official day of summer!

Sarah & Nick

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chipotle Black Bean Casserole

Any recipe involving black beans, rice, and cheese is definitely a keeper in the Surznick kitchen and this Chicken and Black Bean Casserole from Six Sisters' Stuff is no exception. We've made this recipe numerous times now, but this past time we decided to switch things up a bit to make a meatless version with chipotle salsa!

Chipotle Black Bean Casserole (adapted from Six Sisters' Stuff)
Here's what you need!
- 1 cup uncooked rice (white or brown)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 an onion, chopped
- 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
- Cumin, salt & pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup chipotle salsa (adjust to your spice preference)
- 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a glass pie dish.
- Cook your rice in the vegetable broth, according to package directions.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook onion and zucchini until onion is tender and zucchini is slightly browned. Season with your spices.
- In a large bowl, mix together onion, zucchini, black beans, chipotle salsa, and 1 cup of cheese. Transfer into your pie dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.
- Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes until casserole is bubbly and lightly browned.

You can serve this as is or top with a little plain Greek yogurt or sour cream! I like the touch of spiciness that the chipotle salsa adds. We decided to eat our leftovers in tortilla shells which was super delicious as well!

This recipe was the perfect size for two meals for each of us, but I love that it can easily be doubled if you're serving a larger group of people. Think you'll make this for your friends and family soon?

Sarah & Nick

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

DIY Instagram Magnets

Instagram is my favorite app. Not only do I love getting to see awesome photos from the people I follow, but I love getting to share a glimpse into my life with my followers too. My Instagram account is kind of like a little yearbook of all the fun, exciting things Nick and I get to do, as well as our everyday life mixed in. Since I love these photos so much, I've wanted to incorporate some into our home decor and I thought that refrigerator magnets would be a great way to share some of our favorite snaps!

There are plenty of companies out there that will turn your Instagram photos into magnets for you, but why buy when you can DIY?!

Here's what you need!
- 2x2" tiles (similar)
- Printed Instagram photos
- Scissors
- Mod Podge
- Paintbrush
- Super glue
- Round magnets
- Xacto Knife

Note: We bought a sheet of 36 2x2" tiles from Home Depot for about $2. They were attached with a small amount of glue and can easily be separated into single tiles. The only single 2x2" tiles we found came in packs of 4 for about the same price, so the sheet of 36 is the way to go!

Here's what you do!
- Compile the photos you want to use for your magnets (trust me, narrowing them down is the hardest part). You can view your Instagram account on your computer at Instagram.com/YourUsername. I took screenshots of mine from the website into our photo editing software and cropped/made other changes.
- Next, I copied all of the photos into a Word document and resized them to have 1.81" sides. This will give a very small border on the photos so that the paper isn't going to the very edge of the tile. I put 2 spaces in between each photo to make room for cutting. I was able to fit my 36 photos onto two sheets of paper.
- Print your photos. (We got ours printed at Staples for $1.25 - we were out of colored ink at home.) Cut out your photos.
- If necessary, separate and clean the glue off your tiles. Nick used an Xacto knife to cut them apart and scrape off any remaining glue.

- Apply a coat of Mod Podge and place your photo on the tile. Press down and smooth out the edges.
- Apply a coat of Mod Podge on top of the photo. After it dries, add a second coat.

- After your tiles are completely dried, flip them over and glue a magnet to the center of the back of the tile.
- After the glue is dry, your magnets are fridge-ready!

This project was super easy and inexpensive, which gets a double-tap from me! (How's my Instagram joke, guys?) These would make a great personal gift for friends or family. You could also get larger tiles to make your own Instagram coasters! (See our previous tile coaster tutorial here.)

If you make your own Instagram magnets, be sure to let us know in the comments!

Sarah & Nick
(By the way, you can find us on IG @sawissinger & @nmalburg)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cold Brew Coffee

Nick and I love coffee, but as the summer weather starts rolling in, sometimes a steaming hot cup o' joe in the morning is the last thing I want. A big glass of iced coffee sounds much more appealing, doesn't it? Well to make this happen, we decided to try our hand at cold brewing!

I'm sure there's plenty of ways to make cold brew coffee, but we adapted our process from The Pioneer Woman and it was so easy!

Here's what you need! (For a 1 gallon batch)
- 1/2 lb. ground coffee
- 1 gallon of cold water
- Ice
- Any creamers or sweeteners you choose
- Tools: 2 large pots or containers, wooden spoon, fine mesh strainer/cheesecloth

Note: We used coarse ground coffee, just to be sure we didn't have any grinds going through our strainer. But if you have a very fine strainer or cheesecloth, a regular grind should work as well.

UPDATE 6/11/14: We just made another batch of coffee using a regular grind. Our strainer is very fine, so we didn't have any issues with grinds ending up in our coffee. Success! But the grounds soaked up a lot more water this way, so we didn't end up with a full gallon like we do with coarse ground. Also, using a regular grind definitely made our coffee stronger and more concentrated, so you may want an extra splash of milk!

Here's what you do!
- Pour your dry coffee grounds into a large pot. We used a kitchen scale to measure out 1/2 lb. since coffee isn't typically sold in this weight. You could always double this recipe if it's easier for you to use a whole pound!

- Pour your cold water into the pot of coffee grounds and use a wooden spoon to stir.

- Cover your pot and let it sit at room temperature overnight.
- The next day, line another large pot or container with a fine mesh strainer and pour your coffee/water mix through the strainer. We used a fine mesh strainer and bucket from Nick's beer brewing supply arsenal.

- Once the liquid has stopped running through on it's own, try to squeeze additional coffee through your strainer. Discard grounds.

- If necessary, transfer your coffee to the container you'll keep it in. We moved ours from the brewing bucket to a pitcher. Then put it in the fridge and serve as needed!

This is definitely my new favorite thing. I LOVE being able to have iced coffee at home! In my head, I think I associate iced coffee drinks with coffee shops rather than something I can whip up myself.

I've been drinking mine with a tablespoon or two of sweetened condensed milk stirred in and it is SO good. Nick likes a little caramel syrup and milk in his. Or you could drink it black! (We both drink our hot coffee black, but I prefer my iced coffee to have some sweetness to it.)

Think you'll give cold brew coffee a shot?

Sarah & Nick

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