September 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Surznick Reads: September 2014

Well September flew by, didn't it?! This was an especially busy month for us... out of town 2 weekends, my birthday weekend, plus friends visiting us for a brewery tour this past weekend. I'm glad that I actually found some time to read!

Here are our my September books! (Someone didn't finish any books this month...)

Sarah's Reads!

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
From "Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey."

This is the 2nd book in the All Souls Trilogy that I'm reading for my monthly book club (you can find my review of book 1 here.) I unfortunately did not enjoy this book as much as the first. At nearly 600 pages, I wouldn't have minded if it was about half the length. The entire book takes place in 1591, which is cool if you know anything about this time period... I, however, do not. So most of the people they encounter (i.e. Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, etc.) don't mean much to me. The book was full of fluff that wasn't necessary to the story, but I did like the parts that actually mattered, like their search for the lost manuscript. I just started the final book in the trilogy... crossing my fingers I like it better than this!

My Rating: 3 Stars

Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. 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've wanted to read Catch Me If You Can for a long time, as I really love the movie. After Nick read it in May (see his review here), I was a little nervous because he did not like it very much. But I'm not one to skip out on reading a book because of a bad review and I'm so glad I didn't because I loved this story. Maybe I'm just a sucker for memoirs (this is the 5th one I've read this year), but I did not find this book boring at all. Frank's journey is seriously incredible - the description above really says it all. Each chapter left me thinking "I can't believe he did that!" An 18 year old posing as a doctor for an entire year and no one noticed? Nuts. Whether or not you've seen this movie, the book is definitely worth a read. In addition to being an amazing story, it's a quick read and you'll breeze through it in no time!

My Rating: 5 Stars

Happy October!

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Less Mess" Chocolate Cake

Notice how "Less Mess" is in quotations... yeah, this cake doesn't exactly live up to it's name. It does, however, live up to it's deliciousness. Not sure if that even makes sense, but this cake is GOOD.

A few weeks ago when Nick and I visited his parent's house for the weekend (when we made the Easy Pasta Fagioli!) we decided to make this cake for dessert. We love this recipe because it has no milk and no eggs which means no substitutions for us!

In theory, this cake is supposed to make "less mess" because all of the ingredients should be mixed right in the pan you bake it in. Past experience has taught us that this doesn't work exactly as planned... but how does only 1 bowl sound? Pretty good? Cool.

Here's what you need!
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 heaping tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 6 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. white vinegar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup cold water
- Frosting of your choice

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 9x9" pan.

- Combine all ingredients (except the frosting, of course) in a large bowl. If you feel daring you can go the "less mess" route and combine everything directly in pan, but we prefer the bowl.

- Pour your cake batter into your pan and bake 35-40 minutes.

- After the cake has cooled, frost it with your choice of frosting and eat! Nick's mom made some homemade peanut butter frosting for this baby... so yummy.

If you don't have a 9x9" pan, you can double this recipe and make it in a 9x13" pan, which is what we did. We highly recommend this because MORE CAKE.

Hope you enjoyed your first weekend of autumn!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beauty Booties

Boots and booties are definitely a fall staple for a lady's closet. Usually every September, I do a little online clothes browsing and decide, "Hey, I could use some new boots for the fall!" But this year I'm holding back. Not because I want to (let's be real, I always want new clothes/shoes), but because I already have some beautiful booties in my closet ready to go!

I've seen a lot of fashion bloggers share some of their favorite booties for fall, and I slowly started to realize that the booties I already own are very similar to what's on trend this season. Even though I love shopping, this is pretty exciting for me because it means more money in my pocket! (...for more pumpkin beer, amiright?!)

So today I'm going to share the fall booties in my closet and some cute similar styles in case you're on a fall booty hunt!

Casual Faux-Suede Booties

I've been seeing this style of booty EVERYWHERE. Nearly every blog I read is sharing this Sam Edelman Petty booty, which retails for $130. You may not believe it, but I snagged my almost identical pair this past July for $11 from Old Navy. Yes, you read that right. On clearance for only $11... there was no way these babies weren't coming home with me!

I've been wearing them a lot over the past few months, so you may have seen glimpses of them already. They are hands-down my favorite booty for fall. They're super versatile - I can wear them with jeans or even dresses and skirts. Unfortunately, Old Navy is no longer selling this style online, but you may be able to find a clearance pair in stores! If you're not interested in splurging on the Sam Edelman pair, here are some cute lower price point options: 123

Perforated Booties

I bought these perforated booties from ModCloth last year when I was taking full advantage of Nick's employee discount. How could I say no?! I really like that the color is a little more tan than my taupe booties above. I didn't wear them much last fall, but they're definitely going to be making a bigger appearance this year!

Here are a few styles you may want to try!: 1, 2, 3

Zippered Faux-Leather Booties

These booties came into my life last fall when I bought them during a Charlotte Russe "Happy Hour" sale for $20! (You may remember their debut from this post.) These are my go-to heeled booties for when I want a bit more than a casual flat boot.

I love this style because again, they're so versatile. Super cute with jeans, but I love them with dresses as well. Here are some more options!: 1, 2, 3

And just for fun, if I were going to be doing some booty shopping this fall, here are a few styles I have my eye on!
Which pair do you like the best? Let me know in the comments! Happy shopping!

xo, Sarah

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Our Summer To-Do List: Results!

It's here! The best season of the year is finally here! But before we kick off a round of fall themed posts for you guys, we need to wrap up that okay, but not nearly as awesome season called summer.

I'm just kidding. This summer was great. Not only did Nick and I get to go to San Francisco, but we also spent lots of time with friends and family, making delicious food, going to concerts, etc.

Perhaps you'll remember way back in June when we shared our Summer To-Do List with you. Well today we're here to say sayonara to summer and let you know what we did (or didn't) accomplish.

Sarah's list:
1. Write down recipes that I've made (and liked) on recipe cards and delete them from my Pinterest board.
Ehh... this is not really done. It's started, but not nearly complete. Turns out almost all of the recipes we make come from Pinterest and writing them all down is rather time-consuming. It's definitely something I'm going to work on as the weather continues to get colder and I'm all about staying snuggly and warm in our apartment. Hopefully I'll be caught up soon!

2. Go to an outdoor movie (or a bunch of them!)
My mom visited us at the end of June and we watched E.T. outside at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville. I haven't seen E.T. since I was little, so this was a blast. Pittsburgh Citiparks shows outdoor movies every summer in various parks around the city. The schedule for each park is staggered, so pretty much any night of the week you can catch an outdoor flick! I'm a little bummed this is the only one we went to this year, but I can't wait for next year!

3. Try 5 new restaurants on our restaurant passport.
Yep! We actually ate at more than 5, but the first 5 were Mad Mex, Spak Brothers, 1947 Tavern, Buffalo Blues, and Lili Cafe. Spak Brothers and Lili Cafe... SO GOOD! We created this passport before we changed our diet, so selecting restaurants that would have vegan options for us was a bit of a challenge. Spak Brothers is now our go-to vegan pizza. They also have vegan seitan cheesesteaks, which are incredible (drooling just typing this). At Lili Cafe we had a delicious tofu scramble for Sunday brunch. We're definitely going to repeat eat at these places!

4. Buy our fruits and veggies from the farmer's market as often as possible.
On Fridays when we weren't going out of town, I went to the farmer's market outside the museum where I work. Not only does it have the fruits and veggies you can expect from a farmer's market, but the Carnegie Library also has a table selling used books (my dream!) And there's a bakery that sells the most delicious vegan pepperoni rolls and chocolate chip cookie bars. A+!

5. Repaint our dining room table and chairs.
Total success! You can read all about our table and chairs makeover here!

6. Successfully learn how to use the manual setting on our camera.
Unfortunately I don't really feel worthy of crossing this off... Too bad it's not on Nick's list because he has been the one studying the camera how-to! Luckily for me, he's also the one taking the most photos, so it all works out I guess. Still something I want to figure out eventually though!

7. Have friends over for a BBQ.
Sadly no, we didn't do this one either. It really feels like we were only home for a handful of weekends this summer and a BBQ just wasn't in the cards. Who knows, maybe instead of a BBQ we'll have an awesome Halloween party?!

8. Plan out our meals every week.
Okay, I'm going to like 3/4 cross this out. I was good about planning out meals when we were home on the weekend (when we usually do our grocery shopping). If we went out of town, the following week's meals were usually scrounged up from whatever we had in the house. But I will say that the whole reason I like planning out meals is because we're less likely to order food or eat junk when we have a meal planned. Since removing all non-vegan food from our house, I think that the meals we ate during non-planned out weeks were still on the healthy end of the spectrum.

9. Have a picnic at Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch.
Yep, we did this too! My best friend, Bethany, visited us for a weekend in early August and we went to the final concert of the summer! We actually didn't even catch a glimpse of the band because it was so packed, but we loved it! It was a gorgeous day, there were adorable dogs everywhere, we drank coffee, ate bagels, and just laid out and enjoyed the cool breeze. Can't wait to do this again next year.

10. Find/make/upcycle a coffee table for our dining room.
I wasn't sure if I should cross this out completely, but I did it anyway. We bought a coffee table from Craigslist for our dining room, but we have some makeover plans for it that we haven't completed yet. Don't worry, we'll be sharing it with you as soon as it's complete!

Nick's list:
1. See a movie at the drive-in.
I'm pretty sure this is something I've only done a grand total of about 3 times in my entire life. It's fun, I like it, and it's a great summer activity. I guess it just wasn't meant to be for the summer of 2014. I'm still looking for an opportunity to do it, though!

2. Run 30 miles/month.
I by no means consider myself a runner. I made this goal on June 21st, yet didn't run a single mile until.... September 8th. Ouch. I am crossing it off partially though because since that first run, I've already run over 38 miles just this month, so I know I have it in me! I'm relocating this goal to Fall, and I'm going to continue to feel healthy and happy chasing a consistent running schedule.

3. Organize my school materials into filing cabinets.
My school materials are indeed much much more organized than they ever have been! However, we are still lacking a filing cabinet here in our home. I'm half crossing this out until we get that sucker in here and I can fill it up.

4. Go to a free summer concert at Hartwood Acres.
We were able to go to a free summer concert outdoors at a park... but not at Hartwood Acres. We went to the WYEP Summer Music Festival with Sarah's mom on one of her visits out to Pittsburgh, and it was a beautiful way to spend an evening in some gorgeous weather.

5. Do more weekend schoolwork/planning outside.
It's hard to quantify if I've sucessfully done this or not. I did some work outside... and considering I usually do no work outside, I'd say that counts as "more!" Accomplished.

6. Make my own veggie burgers.
Accomplished! I made Homemade Black Bean Veggie Burgers a while back and they were pretty good. I'm already looking forward to a second attempt, because I have some ideas on how to improve on the recipe I tried. It's great to know we can make our own burgers in our home, since hamburgers are were one of my long time favorite foods.

7. Expand my vinyl collection.
Yep! This one is tricky. I love music, but the things I want to own on vinyl nowadays are either a.) really hard to find or b.) expensive! However, since it is our vinyl collection, and I bought Sarah 2 albums for her birthday, I'm considering it officially expanded.

8. Make music with friends.
Sadly, no. Working full time and doing a lot of traveling on the weekends doesn't exactly allow for a lot of this in my life. However, I'm going to try really hard to make it happen more often, as it is hands down one of my favorite things in this entire world to do.

9. Sample whiskey somewhere cool.
Somewhere cool... let's see... well, what's cooler than your own local craft distillery's barrel house and whiskey garden? Wigle Whiskey is absolutely incredible. They have 2 amazing locations: the distillery and their barrel house. Sampling a bunch of different whiskeys and drinking a fantastic Old Fashioned right from the source was the perfect way to cross this off the list!

10. Tour a new brewery.
I'm half crossing this off the list. Our plans to tour a couple breweries while on our trip in San Francisco fell through, but we currently have our tickets booked for a tour of East End Brewing Company here in Pittsburgh this Saturday with some friends visiting from out of town! I know summer is technically over, but I'm still super stoked (even if I am late on my list).

Anyone else have a productive summer and tackle those big to-do list items? Share with us in the comments!

Sarah & Nick


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Birthday Day Date (For $60!)

Guess what, guys? I am officially old enough to rent a car! This past Thursday was my 25th birthday. It was also National Cheeseburger Day, in case you didn't know.

I had work all day on my actual birthday (boooo), but that night we got to see one of my favorite bands, Merriment. Seriously, check them out. Their debut album came out earlier this year and it's one of the most beautiful records I've ever listened to. I was also lucky enough to meet the lovely Christie DuPree, singer of Merriment! Really, a wonderful night.

Anyway, I'm a quarter of a century old now (!!!) so Nick and I wanted to do something more fun than the usual birthday dinner and cake. Since we only spent a few hours together on my birthday, we decided to take off work yesterday and have a full-fledged birthday day date together. Between working full time jobs and spending weekends visiting family, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc., it's very rare to have an entire day devoted to only having fun. Yesterday was the BEST, and we only spent a total of $60 (not bad for a 16 hour date)! Here's a little recap of our day!

Home-cooked Breakfast
I woke up yesterday morning to find that Nick had prepared a huge, delicious breakfast for us! He made a red pepper tofu scramble, toast, and pumpkin spice coffee! Even the bread is homemade! By the way, I'm pretty new to the tofu life, but tofu scrambles are seriously good. Should we share this recipe with you guys soon?!

Walk Around Highland Park
I believe that Nick and I live in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. There are so many trees, shops, and beautiful houses. We decided to take a walk around our 'hood, stopping at the local bakery for delicious macarons and taking photos of all the pretty homes.

Tacos at Round Corner Cantina
For lunch we headed to Lawrenceville for tacos at Round Corner Cantina! Round Corner is a go-to spot for drinks on the weekend, but we had yet to try their food. We both got the seitan tacos with avocado salsa and they were DEEEELISH. We can finally cross this one off the food passport!

This Is Where I Leave You
After lunch we headed to Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill to see This Is Where I Leave You. Nick and I both love this novel by Jonathan Tropper and the movie was just as good, if not better than the book. No shame in saying that I cried numerous times. The film stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver (GIRLS!!!), Jane Fonda, and more. It was amazing. And maybe you'll know what I mean when I say that Jason Bateman wasn't too Jason Bateman-y in this, so that was good.

Drinks at Wigle Whiskey
After the movie we got caught in rush hour traffic (oops, forgot it was Friday!) but finally we arrived at our last stop for the day... Wigle Whiskey! Wigle is a local craft whiskey distillery that we've been eager to try for months now. Their distillery is in the Strip District, but we went to their barrelhouse and whiskey garden on the North Side. We sampled a few of their products, but I ended up getting a Chai Whiskey cocktail while Nick got an Old Fashioned. So yummy.

Pizza and a Movie
Finally we made our way back to our apartment where Nick cooked up a homemade pizza and we settled in for the night with some pumpkin beers and the movie I'm Not There. I had no idea that my hometown brewery, Lancaster Brewing Company, made a pumpkin ale, but turns out they do and it's delicious! Also, Nick makes a mean homemade pizza (crust and all!)

The end of our day was a bit crazy as our street flooded with fire trucks and police cars because the apartment building two houses down from us was on fire. Everyone evacuated the building by the time firefighters arrived and no one was injured. We're glad everyone is okay!

Overall, I had an AMAZING birthday day date. I love living in a city where there's so much to do - I wish there were more days in the week so I could do this all the time! I feel so grateful for all of the wonderful things I have in my life, including this amazing boyfriend who treats me like a birthday queen 365 days a year. I'm so lucky that I get to spend every day with this dude and eat all of the homemade pizza he can make for me.

Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes! I hope you have a great weekend!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Easy Pasta Fagioli

Since moving away from our hometowns, Sarah and I really value our weekend trips back to our parents’ houses.  Earlier this summer, we had a really great trip to Sarah’s mom’s place in Lancaster to cook up some Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes, and Eggplant "Meatball" Subs. Now just this past weekend, we thought it would be great to show some recipes from my mother, and cook some delicious food on our trip “up north” to my hometown in Elk County.

For me, I know that some of my best memories of my immediate and extended family revolve around food. My mom and her side of the family are predominantly Italian, so we often have some sort of Italian dish at holidays or large gatherings (ravioli, lasagna, etc.) This time around, since we’re trying to adapt recipes to fit with a vegan style of eating, we opted for some Pasta Fagioli, which has almost no substitutions to make into a vegan soup!

Here’s what you need!
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. parsley
- 1 tbsp. dried basil (but best to use fresh if available)
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 15 oz. cans great northern beans
- 1 29 oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
- 8 oz. small sized pasta (we used Ditalini)
- 1 14.5 oz. can spinach (or 1/2 bag fresh)
- 2 14.5 oz cans vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mozzarella, for topping (optional)

Here’s what you do!
- In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients except for the pasta (and spinach if you’re using fresh).
- Bring to a boil on high heat, reduce heat, and simmer for about 40 minutes.
- After about 40 minutes, add the pasta and spinach until pasta is tender.

That’s it! The soup is SO flavorful. It has recently become one of my favorite meals to eat at home. My mom also happens to be great at baking all sorts of bread. This dish is served deliciously with some fresh homemade French bread, and topped with mozzarella or cheese of your choice!

This isn’t any sort of secret family recipe or anything, so go make some! It’s delicious.

Sarah & Nick

Monday, September 8, 2014

Super Soft Knitted Blanket

Up until recently, my knitting experience has extended only to scarves, mittens, Swiffer cloths, penguin sweaters, and rugs (okay, that's more than I thought...) But I wanted to finally try my hand at a super cozy knitted blanket for the upcoming cold months.

In the past, I've been deterred from knitting a blanket because I didn't want to make it in strips or squares that need to be sewn together. That's the problem with knitting... you can only fit so many stitches on a needle, and that amount is likely not enough to make a blanket. So unless I used some crazy, complicated pattern, I thought this was my only option.

But as it turns out... there's this special little tool in the knitting toolbox called circular needles. I kind of thought circular needles were only used for knitting in the round (i.e. hats and socks and stuff), but as I started researching blanket patterns I realized that I could use circular needles for a large blanket too! NO SEWING! I immediately went out and purchased my supplies and set to it!

Here's what I used!
- Size 17 circular needles
- 6 skeins Bernat Baby Blanket yarn in Sand (10.5 oz. size)
- Scissors

(Yes, I used baby blanket yarn. Everyone deserves a soft blanket, even if they aren't a baby.)

Here's what I did!
- Since this was my first time knitting a blanket and using this type of yarn, I wanted to keep everything super simple. So no fancy pattern here - just regular ol' knitting. Also, this blanket needed to be BIG. Nick's biggest complaint about the blankets we have is that they won't cover him from feet to shoulders. So a big blanket it is...
- I casted on 140 stitches. Then I just knitted, knitted, worked in a new skein of yarn, knitted, watched The Sopranos, knitted, knitted, ate Oreos, knitted, knitted... you get the idea. This baby was time consuming.
- Once I finally reached my desired size, I casted off, knotted, and cut my yarn. By hand, I worked in all of the stray yarn pieces from adding in a new skein.
- My completed blanket is 5'x7.5' (yes, BIG) and also AMAZING.

I'm super proud of this project (as I think I should be). My blood, sweat, and tears went into making it... okay, that sounds pretty gross. But in all seriousness, I accidentally cut my finger while knitting (ouch), and knitting a blanket in a hot apartment in the middle of summer basically means you're covered up with a blanket in a hot apartment in the middle of summer..., and I definitely cried at the Billy on the Street segment during the Emmys (hilarious). So I guess it's true. My blood, sweat, and tears went into the making of this blanket.

This blanket took me about a month to complete, which actually doesn't seem like very long... but I knitted about 3-4 solid hours a day for that month, so it definitely wasn't a quick and easy project that can be cranked out in a few days (like scarves, mittens, etc.)

This blanket also wasn't really the cheapest. I had no idea how many skeins of yarn I would need when I set out on this journey, and 6 skeins at $9.99 a pop isn't cheap (granted, I did use coupons on most of them, so my total cost was less than $60). But I suppose that's my fault for picking out the softest yarn I could find and not caring about the cost. I probably could have purchased a mass-produced knitted blanket from somewhere for cheaper, but that's not the point. I love knitting, and I love homemade things, and I love watching The Sopranos with Nick while I knit and he unravels my yarn ball for me (#truelove).

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Anyone else ever knitted a blanket? How was your experience?

xo, Sarah