October 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Friday, October 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: October 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEN!!! Hope you guys are having a spooktacular day filled with lots of tricks and treats! ...was that candy corny enough for you? (.... I'm done now.)

I feel like we say this every month, but October seriously was SO busy! This month had it's tough moments for sure, but we spent a lot of time with family and friends, had our annual Fall Day, and just celebrated our 1 Year Blogiversary! (Psst... don't forget to enter our giveaway - it's open 'til Monday!)

We still cranked out a few books, so here they are!

Sarah's Reads!

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
From Amazon.com: "After traveling through time in Shadow of Night... historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago ... Eagerly awaited by Harkness’s legion of fans, The Book of Life brings this superbly written series to a deeply satisfying close."

**Deep breaths** I'm finally done. The Book of Life is the third and final book of the All Souls Trilogy (here are my reviews for books 1 and 2) and I have to say I am glad to be done. As I've mentioned before, this book was the October selection for my book club, so over the past few months I've read books 1 and 2 in addition to 3. I really enjoyed the first book, but the second just dragged me down. I think this final book was defintely an improvement over the second, but it's hard to read 3 books of a series that you just don't really care about. The book is pretty slow in the first half, but towards the end it picks up and becomes very interesting as everything starts to tie together and resolve. Overall, this series wasn't terrible, but I probably wouldn't recommend it either. I'm glad to get back on track with my want-to-read list for the year... only two months to finish it up!

My Rating: 3 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Less Then Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
From Amazon.com: "Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980's, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money a place devoid of feeling or hope. Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs and also into the seamy world of L.A. after dark."

I completely didn’t like this book. There is just no way around it. In my head, I really like Bret Easton Ellis. I loved American Psycho, and so I thought I’d give this one a try as well. Turns out his style just doesn’t sit well with  me. I guess I am a high maintenance reader. I need to be SUPER involved and intrigued in order to really get immersed into a book. The writing style, and plot (or lack-there-of, if you ask me) just wasn’t enough to keep me interested. I’d read pages at a time and realize I was completely zoned out for all of it. Oh well, you like some, you hate some. I don’t know if I’d say I hated it, but it’s definitely not in the “like” column. 

My Rating: 1 Star

Surznick's Reads! (Yep, both of us!)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
From Amazon.com: "On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?"

So first of all, Nick and I read this book out loud to each other. Doing this was actually so awesome! I've been wanting to read Gone Girl for a couple years now, but just never got around to it. Now that the movie is out, I've been getting increasingly nervous that at any moment, I could read a tweet or Facebook status that will ruin it for me. So I bought the book, and since Nick wanted to read it as well, I decided that it would be fun for me to read it to him while we drove to and from Virginia last weekend for his cousin's wedding. Since we've been home, we've been taking turns reading chapters to each other (Nick reads the Nick chapters and I read the Amy chapters). It's been so much fun getting to read at the exact same time as him. I love seeing our reactions together, discussing the book each night before bed, and just spending time with him in general. Reading is typically such a solitary activity, so it's really been amazing to share this with him. I think we're definitely going to do it more in the future!

And now for our review... I'll say that we both really, really liked this book, but I wouldn't say either of us loved it. Mostly because of the end. The ending was less than stellar for me, and I just really hoped it would have turned out differently. But besides the ending, we thought Gone Girl was excellent. It was at times hilarious, at times sad, and at others hard for me to read. We loved getting the story from both (Diary) Amy and Nick's perspectives and seeing how they match up. It was fun trying to determine what was a lie and what was the truth and seeing how each character played into it. I'd definitely be interested in reading Flynn's other books in the future. And now we can finally see the movie!

Our Rating: 4 Stars

We hope that you all have a fun and safe Halloween! Eat lots of candy! Tomorrow is our Halloween party so we'll be back on Sunday to share our costumes with you!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chalkboard Coffee Table

Chalkboard paint has been around for awhile now, but it's not something I had much interest in until recently. Nick and I rent our apartment, so we can't very well paint our walls with it and I didn't really have any other use for it.

But a few months ago, I had an epiphany. By epiphany, I mean I was going through my Pinterest boards and this photo that I pinned 2-3 years ago caught my eye. A chalkboard top coffee table?! That's pretty smart. (Also, am I the only one who doesn't remember half the stuff they pin?)

Finding this pin was actually perfect timing because Nick and I had been on a hunt for a coffee table for our dining room (as you may remember from our Summer To-Do List.) Our dining room area is pretty big, but we eat at a small table and chairs, so the room has kind of morphed into a dining room/second living room/music room/workspace/library/etc. We needed a coffee table in front of our futon and we knew we wanted to find a cheap table that we could fix up in some way. None of the ideas we had were just right, but a chalkboard coffee table was perfect.

We bought this black-brown Ikea Lack coffee table on Craiglist for $10. It's a great size for our space, it's light and easy to move, plus it's cheap, so if we decide down the road that we're sick of a chalkboard top table, we'll have no guilt about repurposing or donating it.

Here's what we used!
- Rustoleum 2X Ultra Cover Paint + Primer Semi-Gloss Spray Paint
- Rustoleum Speciality ChalkBoard Paint
- Paintbrush
- Drop cloth/shower curtain
- Chalk

Here's what we did!
- First we wiped the table down so we had a clean surface to paint.
- We took the table outside and sprayed it with one coat of black semi-gloss spray paint. We didn't spray paint the top, since this is where we will be painting the chalkboard paint. One coat was enough coverage since the table was already black.
- After the table was fully dry, we brought it back inside to begin working on the top. We decided not to use painter's tape or masking tape around the edge of the table. Chalkboard paint is thicker than regular latex paint, so we weren't worried about paint running down the sides as long as we were careful.

- We brush painted the chalkboard paint onto the top of the table, careful around the edges to avoid drips. You could also roll the paint, however, we didn't want to purchase a small roller just for this project, so brush it is!

- Per the instructions on the paint can, we waited 4 hours for the paint to dry before adding a second coat. Two coats was all we needed! The table top has a slight texture and lines from the brush, however, they're barely noticeable and it doesn't bother either of us at all so we're completely satisfied with brushing instead of rolling.

- The paint needs to dry for 3 days before you can condition it for writing. To condition the table, you rub the side of a piece of chalk over the entire surface and wipe it clean with a damp rag or paper towel.
- You're done, so write away!

First of all, I LOVE the contrast between the shiny black spray paint and the matte chalkboard top. You can't see it well in the photos, but I think it's really pretty and makes the table look unique.

And of course, the reason we did this in the first place... having a chalkboard table top is so cool! I can't wait to see what our friends write and draw on it at our Halloween party this weekend! Nick also spends a lot of time in this room playing guitar and working on lessons for school, so I'm glad that he has a place where he can jot down a quick list or notes if he needs to. We obviously don't have any kiddos running around, but this table would be perfect for little ones too.

How do you think it looks?! Is a chalkboard table something you think you'd like to try? Now that we have chalkboard paint on hand, I'm already scheming up more ideas for it. My mind certainly changed a lot from the beginning of this post, huh? Oh well, inspiration abounds!

Sarah & Nick

P.S. DON'T FORGET TO ENTER OUR BLOGIVERSARY CONTEST! You could win a set of alcohol ink coasters (like the ones shown in these photos) plus other very, very awesome things! Use the Rafflecopter widget in our previous post to enter!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy 1 Year Blogiversary! (+ A Giveaway & An Announcement!)

Cheers!!! Today we're celebrating because... The Surznick Common Room is ONE YEAR OLD! This one year has been especially great for us. It's crazy to think that even 13 months ago, the idea of creating a blog was something that never really crossed our minds. Without little pushes from our friends, we'd still just be posting the occasional meal or craft photo on Instagram. Oh, and our apartment would definitely be a lot cleaner :)

Thank you so much to everyone who takes the time to stop by and read our posts. We can't begin to tell you how much it means to us. When we see that someone has made a project we've shared or cooked one of our recipes, it makes us SO HAPPY. So seriously. Thank you.

We feel like this little blog has accomplished a bunch in one year! Here are some of our favorite moments:
- Our very first project post, Wine Bottle Lights, has more views than any other post on the blog (5,700+!) and has been pinned over 8,900 times!
- We reached 50,000 total page views earlier this month!
- Sarah's outfit from this post was featured as Chic of the Week on LaurenConrad.com!
- We got a new camera! We still have a lot to learn, but I think our photos have drastically improved since that first post, wouldn't you say?

Okay, okay, let's get to the part you're most excited about - the giveaway! A blog is nothing without it's readers, so as a thank you to those who give this blog life, we have a Surznick Common Room present! We've put together a little gift comprised of items we love, or we've made and shared on this blog over the past year. One lucky winner will receive:
- A copy of A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home (ABM is such an inspiration for us!)
- A hand-painted mug
- A set of alcohol ink coasters
- A pair of DIY chain bracelets

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter (it may take a minute to load). There are many different options for entering, so complete as many as you want! The giveaway is open until Monday, 11/3/14.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
We promised you guys an announcement too, didn't we? Oh yes. Starting in 2015, there is going to be a Surznick Common Room Etsy shop! We don't have much detail to share now, but the shop is going to feature different projects we've shared on the blog, such as knitted Swiffer cloths, alcohol ink coasters, knitted blankets, etc.

We'll have more information to share soon, but in the meantime, if there's a particular project that you'd like to see for sale in the shop, please leave a comment to let us know! We've been tossing this idea around for awhile and we're really excited to see it come to fruition, so any ideas or notes you'd like to share are greatly appreciated!

Again, thank you all so much and good luck in the giveaway!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sweater Weather

I know, I know... very unoriginal post title. But hey, it is sweater weather, especially here in Pittsburgh. We've had a bunch of chilly days lately and pulling out the coziest sweaters just feels so good, doesn't it?

I'm not really someone that analyzes my closet each season and shops based on what I think it needs. Even though it can be dangerous at times, I'm an impulse shopper through and through. But even more so than being an impulse shopper, I'm a thrifty shopper, and when you add those two together, magical things can happen, like practically this entire outfit.

The Columbus Day sales this year were pretty amazing, and as I was online window shopping about 10 sites at a time, I found myself at Rue 21 where I saw three lovely items: this oversize knit sweater, this wool floppy hat, and these heeled black booties.

The sweater and the hat were in my cart immediately, but I pondered over the boots a bit since I just told you all about how I have already enough booties for this fall. But did you see any black ones in that post? That's right, you didn't - so in the cart they went (and a pair for my momza too!) Columbus Day sales + coupon codes = $8 sweater, $6 hat, and $15 booties. Yes, you read that correctly.

I'm super, super pleased with everything that I purchased. This sweater is so cozy and comfortable and I love the oversize fit. I've seen many a fashion blogger sporting wool floppy hats this season, so I'm glad I can finally join the ranks. Lastly, these boots have been on my feet almost every day since I purchased them. I wouldn't recommend wearing them around the entire day if you're doing some serious walking, but I've worn them to work several times, to a concert, and out to dinner with Nick and they were perfect! I haven't purchased anything from Rue 21 since my college days, but I seriously love everything that I picked up during this sale, so I bet I'll find myself online window shopping there in the future.

Sweater\Rue 21 (exactsimilarsimilar),  Jeans\American Eagle (exact old, similar),  Booties\Rue 21 (exact no longer available, similar, similar),  Hat\Rue 21 (exact no longer available, similar, similar),  Bag\H&M (exact)

If you're following me on Instagram (I hope you are!), then you probably also saw this beautiful, colorful dress that I picked up during the same sale for $8. Have you found any amazing deals this fall that you just couldn't pass up? Let me know!

xo, Sarah

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Happy Fall Day!

A few years ago, Nick and I started what is now an annual tradition that we like to call Fall Day (very creative). The concept is really simple. One day every fall, we set aside work, cleaning, and all un-fun stuff we don't really like to do. Instead, we spend the entire day doing all of our favorite fall things. We pick pumpkins, carve 'em, watch scary movies, eat pizza, and drink pumpkin-y, cinnamon-y libations all day. IT'S MY FAVORITE DAY OF THE ENTIRE YEAR.

Seriously, if someone were to ask me what my favorite holiday is, I'd say Fall Day. I just love it so much. So this year we documented the whole thing to share with you, in case maybe you'd like to incorporate a Fall Day into your autumn agenda. Here it goes!

We wake up nice and early and have a delicious breakfast. Nick made us tofu scramble burritos - so good! Then we made some pumpkin spice lattes to go, perfect for heading out to the pumpkin patch!

We go to Pumpkinland at Janoski's Farm and Greenhouse each year to pick our pumpkins. It's about 40 minutes west of Pittsburgh, so not super close, but it's our favorite. Pumpkinland has a corn maze, petting looking zoo (seriously - they changed the name this year to "looking zoo"), haunted barn, and of course pumpkins! You take a hay ride out to the pumpkin patch where you can pick any pumpkins or gourds of your choosing.

We had a great day to pick pumpkins this year, besides it being a bit chilly. Janoski's is usually packed with families, but I think yesterday's cold and wind kept people at home, so it wasn't too busy. It was nice to walk through the corn maze without a big crowd!

Janoski's also has an awesome farmer's market, bakery, and gift shop. A local winery, Volant Mill, has a store in the shop that we like to stop in for some samples and to purchase a bottle of their delicious Cocoa Vino (tastes 100% like a red Tootsie Pop!)

On our way home we stopped to pick up our favorite vegan pizza from Spak Brothers! Once we get home we crack open the Cocoa Vino and settle in for some pizza and a movie. This year we decided to keep it classic and watch Halloween 1-5 (excluding 3, obviously).

Once our bellies are full, it's carvin' time! I think my favorite part about carving pumpkins is that I get to roast the pumpkin seeds. If you haven't roasted pumpkin seeds before you MUST do it! I try to rinse them as best as I can in a strainer and once they're clean, I move the wet seeds to a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. While the seeds are wet, I sprinkle seasoned salt on them, toss them around a bit, and sprinkle a little more. Bake them at 300 degrees for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. They're so tasty!

After our pumpkins are carved, we spend the rest of the day snuggled on the couch, watching movies, and sipping some drinks. Our favorite Fall Day drink is warm apple cider and rum, but we also made some pumpkin spice white russians, which are becoming a new favorite around here.

Last night we clocked out midway through Halloween 6 (which stars a young Paul Rudd by the way!), but not before taking our pumpkins outside to see how they turned out. What do you think?! I tried to make mine Jack Skellington.

So that's it! Another successful Fall Day in the books! The best part is that fall is most definitely not over and we still have Halloween to celebrate too!

Do you have any annual fall traditions? Be sure to let us know in the comments! We hope you all had a great weekend!

Sarah & Nick

P.S. My sweater is from Oasap and I LOVE IT!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Crock Pot Apple Cake

Apple pie, apple butter, applesauce, Apple computer... anything apple is good in my book! Last month I pinned this recipe for Vegan Slow Cooker Apple Pie Cake and was eager to give it a try. I had never made a cake in the crock pot before, but it seemed easy enough! (I was right. SO EASY.)

I decided to make it for a Frock Swap party a few weeks ago and it was a big hit! No leftovers! Nick was pretty bummed that he didn't get to try any, so I decided to make it again (uhh, actually 3 times now...) and it's gone over pretty well each time. Trust me, you're gonna want to make this one too.

Here's what you need! (Recipe adapted from Vegan in the Freezer)
- 4 Granny Smith apples
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 cup vegan butter (we use Earth Balance)
- 1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
- Crock pot (I used a 5 qt. size)

The ingredients above are all vegan-friendly, however, you could easily substitute the sugar, butter, and cake mix for non-vegan versions.

Here's what you do!
- Peel and slice apples and place directly in the crock pot.
- In a small bowl, mix together cinnamon and sugar. Pour on top of the apples and stir to coat the apples evenly.

- Measure out your butter and melt it in the microwave.
- In a large bowl, combine dry cake mix and melted butter. Stir well. The mixture should have a crumbly, doughy consistency.
- Sprinkle half of the cake mix into the apples and stir to combine.
- Sprinkle the rest of the cake mix on top of the apples but do NOT mix in.

- Cover and cook on low for 3 hours.
- Serve warm!

For added goodness, we've been eating this with some vanilla soy ice cream... DROOL. SO GOOD. Think you'll make it? Be sure to let us know if you do!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Breakfast Tofu Scramble

As many of you may or may not know, I happen to be dating and living with a woman that was, for the vast majority of her life, obsessed with eggs. I can't tell you how many times I've heard her say, "Eggs are my everything," or some variation of that. That being said, choosing to give up meat and dairy products to the best of our ability recently has put quite a damper on Sarah's egg intake. Therefore, the search for a delicious vegan option was on, and though it is still early in our hunt, this is by far the best Tofu Scrambled Egg recipe we've found so far!

Here's what you need:
- 1 block (16 oz.) firm or extra firm tofu
- 2 tbsp. oil
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast (found in the baking aisle, comes in a shakeable container)
- 1/2 red or yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 bell pepper, diced
- Anything else you'd want to sauté into a breakfast scramble!

Here's what you do:
- Clean and dice your onion and bell pepper and any other veggies/toppings you'll be putting in the scramble.
- Drain and press your tofu (we wrap ours in papertowels and place a cast iron skillet on it). Then, cut it into about 1 inch cubes to be crumbled into your frying pan.
- Add crumbled tofu, peppers, onions, and 2 tbsp. oil in a large frying pan.
- Sauté until vegetables reach desired tenderness.
- Add remaining spices, yeast, and soy sauce.
- Cook on stove top for 5-10 more minutes, stirring often.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add more garlic or onion powder, too. (I usually do!)

And that's it! Fairly quick and super easy, this is a fantastic, satisfying substitute to a morning helping of scrambled eggs and veggies! And of course, it is completely customizable. Add in anything you want! If you would have asked me 6 months ago how I felt about tofu, I'm absolutely certain I would have just walked away from you. Now? I love it, and I love discovering all the incredible, delicious meals I can make with it!

Sarah & Nick