August 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: August 2014

Another month gone by already... here are our August reads!

Sarah's Reads!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
From "Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense."

A Discover of Witches (book 1 of the All Souls Trilogy) was not on my reading list this year, however, my book club chose book 3 as our October selection, so I had to tack on books 1 and 2 to my list. I wasn't really sure if I would like this, but I was happily surprised to find that it's more about history and science than it is about vampire-witch romance. I would say it's like a mix between the Twilight series, the Robert Langdon series, and American Horror Story: Coven. By midway through the book, I was hooked and couldn't wait to read more about Diana's emerging powers and the enchanted manuscript. This first book ends on a cliffhanger, and I'm already well into book 2, finding out what happens next.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
From "1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart... An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again."

I loved this book. This is a beautifully told story about love, loss, and accepting help from unexpected sources. The story is told from 14-year old June's perspective, as she copes with her uncle dying of AIDS. Though June is just barely a teenager, she's very mature and you don't at all feel like you're reading from a 14-year old's diary. It was also very interesting to read a story that takes place in a time where people didn't know much about AIDS. Their opinions and behaviors were very surprising at times, but captivating nonetheless. This is Brunt's debut and only novel, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Sideways by Rex Pickett
From "Sideways is the story of two friends-Miles and Jack-going away together for the last time to steep themselves in everything that makes it good to be young and single: pinot, putting, and prowling bars. In the week before Jack plans to marry, the pair heads out from Los Angeles to the Santa Ynez wine country. For Jack, the tasting tour is Seven Days to D-Day, his final stretch of freedom. For Miles--who has divorced his wife, is facing an uncertain career and has lost his passion for living-the trip is a weeklong opportunity to evaluate his past, his future and himself. A raucous and surprising novel filled with wonderful details about wine, Sideways is also a thought-provoking and funny book about men, women, and human relationships."

For the most part, I enjoyed reading this book. There are a few things that bothered me about it, but overall it was entertaining. The two main characters got themselves in some pretty comical situations and I think I actually laughed out loud once or twice. At first, I was really happy to read all the details about wine tasting--a world which I know nothing about. However, after a little while, all the details about each and every wine they drank seemed to get a bit dry/boring for me. Another thing about the book that I didn't really love was that it was so up and down. The two main characters fought, and made up. Fought again... and made up. Fought again (a bigger fight than last time)... and made up... repeat until the end of the book. In that sense, it was a bit repetitive and predictable. Overall, an entertaining read, but not a suburb book.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
From "Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock-therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances."

Now this was a great book. I read my first Augusten Burroughs book, Magical Thinking, last month, and it was hilarious. Since I knew that this was a really famous book by him, I figured it was time to give it a read. It was pretty fascinating to know that it was a memoir and that all the absurd stories that he details throughout actually happened. It was simultaneously horrifying, hilarious, disturbing, fun and sad. It also helps that it is so well written. I felt like he was just sitting right there with me, telling me these stories first hand. It made the reading experience really enjoyable and I am already looking forward to reading more by Burroughs.

My Rating: 5 Stars

We hope you all have a great Labor Day holiday!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Eggplant "Meatball" Subs

What's your favorite go-to Subway sub? Mine is was definitely meatball. Meatball sub day was also my favorite day at the IUP dining hall. I guess I just love meatball subs. But it's been awhile since I've had a true meatball sub and it'll certainly be awhile (or possibly forever?) until I have one again, as Nick and I no longer eat meat or dairy. So when I saw this recipe for Crispy Eggplant Parmesan Subs from A Beautiful Mess, I knew I wanted to try it out and see if it can be my vegan meatball sub stand-in.

Eggplant "Meatball" Subs (Recipe adapted from A Beautiful Mess)
Here's what you need!
- 1 heaping cup diced eggplant
- 1/2 large red onion
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
- 1 tbsp. cilantro (and additional for topping)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 3 oz. (1/2 can) of tomato paste
- Parchment paper
- Sub rolls
- Marinara sauce
- Shredded mozzarella cheese

The original recipe calls for egg as the binding agent, however, we substituted tomato paste to adapt this to our diet. We also used dairy-free mozzarella and we eliminated parmesan cheese, as we didn't have dairy-free parmesan on hand. We also decided to bake our meatballs rather than fry them, in order to make this meal a little healthier. If you'd like to try this dish without any changes, please see the original recipe linked above!

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a food processor, combine eggplant, onion, garlic, garbanzo beans, cilantro, and salt and pepper. Puree until ingredients are blended.

- Transfer your mixture to a large bowl and stir in breadcrumbs and tomato paste. Your mixture will actually look like raw meat.

- Divide your mixture into about 20 small balls (we had 21). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes, flipping each ball over periodically.

- Once baked, assemble subs with 3-4 meatballs, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and additional cilantro. Place under the broiler for a minute or two to melt the cheese. Enjoy as is or with a little extra marinara on the side!

I REALLY liked these. Nick and I are pretty sure neither of us has had eggplant before, so for our first eggplant experience this was definitely a thumbs up.

We actually tried this recipe twice: once frying the meatballs, per the original instructions, and a second time baking the meatballs. The consistency of the eggplant meatballs after frying is pretty squishy and crumbly, unlike an actual meatball, so don't expect this to have the same texture. Baking really made the meatballs firm up and not squish so much while eating, more similar to an actual meatball.

Either way, these subs were super delicious (Mom approved as well!) and we will definitely make them again.

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Table & Chairs Makeover

When I moved into my first apartment after college, I was completely furniture-less. I sat in camp chairs for weeks and ate all of my meals on the floor. Once my paychecks started coming in, I finally purchased the necessities (a bed and a couch), but instead of spending money on a dining room table and chairs, Nick's aunt and uncle were kind enough to give me a small table and two chairs for free.

The wooden table had a glass top with wicker underneath, but the wicker just wasn't really my style. I decided to paint the table and chairs black and I made a photo collage to place underneath the glass and cover up the wicker. I used film contact sheets from my high school photography classes to make a film strip college on black wrapping paper. (Sound familiar, you guys? We photograph on it a LOT!)

For the past couple years, I've still loved this table. It's fun to glimpse the photos and think of all these memories every time I sit down for a meal. Recently, however,  it's starting to look a little worse for wear with chipped paint and wrinkling paper. Not to mention, we never changed this table from when I lived alone to when we moved in together, so we decided it was time to give the table a makeover that's not just for me, but for us.

We decided to paint the table white to match our 90 year-old chairs and our tv stand, but with some extra fun details. Want to know more? See our materials and steps below!

Here's what we used!
- Sandpaper
- White paint (Frost by Behr in Eggshell)
- Gold spray paint (Rust-oleum Pure Gold Metallic Paint & Printer In One)
- Masking tape (or painter's tape)
- Plastic shower curtain (or drop cloth)
- Paint brushes
- Fabric
- Craft paper
- Scissors
- Pencil

Here's what we did!
- First we gave the table and chairs a good sanding and wiped them down with a wet paper towel once we were finished.
- Since we decided to spray paint the gold rather than use a brush, we wanted to do this step first in case there was any overlap onto the white. We decided how far up the legs we wanted the gold to go and we sprayed the table and chairs with two coats of paint, letting the paint dry completely between coats. (For the chairs it was more like four coats because we had to flip them over to make sure we got the undersides of the supports).
- After the spray paint was dry, we brought the chairs inside and put them on a shower curtain that we use as a drop cloth. We taped off the legs and then brush painted the white paint on chairs and table. We decided not to use a primer, as our paint has primer in it, however, we still did need three coats since we were covering black paint with white paint.

- Instead of putting paper underneath the glass again, this time we opted to use fabric. The fabric we purchased has a subtle pattern on it that you can see up close (not so much in these photos). I definitely like that it's nice and bright and not as in your face as the photo strips.
- We ironed the fabric to remove any wrinkles and then we laid it flat out on the floor and placed the glass on top of it. We used a pencil to trace around the glass and then cut out the fabric circle.
- We laid the fabric on top of the wicker but quickly realized that the pattern of the wicker was visible through the fabric, so we decided to use the glass again to trace and cut out another circle with craft paper this time. We placed the craft paper in first, then the fabric, and finally laid the glass on top.
- For the finishing touches, we purchased green seat cushions from Ikea, as well as a cute little plant (that we can't wait to see bloom!)

I love this makeover. At first I was a little unsure if I did, probably because I was just so used to the black. But the more I look at it, the more I love it. The white makes everything look much cleaner and brighter. I think the addition of the green seat cushions and the plant also made me like this about 10 times more too.

Nick and I eat breakfast and dinner together at this table every day so I'm especially glad that for a small amount of money, we created a unique and happy area that we both love.

Anyone doing any makeover or painting projects in your home? Share with us in the comments! (By the way, if you like our curtains or mugs, they're both DIY and you can find the tutorials here and here!) Have a great week!

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

This past weekend Nick and I took a last minute trip to my mom's house in Lancaster. Unfortunately the trip was under sad circumstances, as I had to go home to say goodbye to my cat, Emily, who hasn't been doing too well in her old age. I got her when I was four years old, so we grew up together and she's really my best gal. She's almost 20 years old, which we calculated as being 97 in cat years (!!!) so she's definitely lived a good, long kitty life.

On a happier note, it was so nice to visit with my mom and get to spend time with her, as we haven't seen her in almost two months. We got the chance to cook and bake together, which we don't get to do very often. I think I've mentioned before that my mom is the queen of desserts, and this weekend we made one of my favorites that she's been making since I was just a kiddo... Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes!

Everyone's heard of zucchini bread, but if you haven't had chocolate zucchini cake, you're in for a treat! We adjusted my mom's original recipe to be vegan-friendly, but feel free to make these using the original ingredients in the parentheses below.

Here's what you need! (Makes one 9x9" cake or 24-26 cupcakes)
- 2 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil (or 3/4 cup soft margarine)
- 2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup applesauce (or 3 eggs)
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 heaping cups shredded zucchini
- 1/2 cup soy milk (or any other milk)
- Powdered sugar for topping

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with paper liners, or grease cake pan.
- Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Set aside.

- In another large bowl, beat together oil, sugar, applesauce, and vanilla with hand mixer. Stir in shredded zucchini.
- Alternately stir in dry ingredients and milk. Once fully combined, pour into cupcake pan, filling cups about 3/4 full.

- Bake 15-20 minutes and let cool in pan 15 minutes. Once cooled, sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and enjoy!

These cupcakes are super moist, fudgy, and of course, DELICIOUS. When zucchini is in season, I can always count on my mom making this, but now I'm glad that I can make it myself too!

Make sure you give this a try, you won't be disappointed! Or if you prefer your zucchini in dinner form, you could always make our Chipotle Black Bean Casserole. Or if you know what's good for you, make both!

Sarah & Nick

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Our Trip to San Francisco

Are you guys ready? There's about to be a San Francisco photo explosion up in here! If you've been following along on Instagram (Surz, Nick) you've probably already seen a bunch of vacation photos, but there are just SO many that we want to share (possibly too many)! This vacation was seriously the best. Be sure to let us know here or on Facebook if you have questions or comments. We'd LOVE to share more about the things we saw/did with you guys! San Francisco is so cool!

Also, a GINORMOUS shout-out to our amazing friend Steve, who opened his house to us, was our personal tour guide to SF, and provided us with endless food, beer, and all things wonderful for the past week. Thank you so much!

Nick and I had never been to the west coast, so getting the opportunity to spend a week in California, about 3 blocks from the Pacific Ocean was truly incredible. We haven't taken a real vacation by ourselves before (with the exception of day/weekend trips) because it's hard to justify spending that extra cash when we live on a tight budget. But sometimes it's nice to cut ourselves some slack and have a little LOT of fun. This trip was definitely one to remember.

And now... it's August?! We've barely scratched the surface of our Summer To-Do List and we only have about a month and a half to go! I'm ready to put the relaxation aside and get to work on some projects I have on the back burner.

Have a great weekend!

Sarah & Nick