December 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: December 2014

Happy New Year's Eve, folks! We're getting ready to put our dancing shoes on so we can ring in the new year with Girl Talk tonight! Woop, woop! But before 2014 comes to a close, we had to stop by and share our final Surznick Reads post of the year!

2014 was our first full year working on The Surznick Common Room and you may remember waaaaaay back in January when we started this monthly series to share the books we've read. We're both really passionate about reading, so it's been a lot of fun to reflect each month and be able to provide small book reviews that will hopefully inspire some book choices for TSCR readers too! So before we get started with December's books, here's a little recap of our 2014 goals!

Sarah's Book Goal = 36 books
Sarah's 2014 Book Count = 36 books (I just made it!)

I was hoping I'd beat last year's count of 40 books, but life just gets in the way sometimes. Oh well! 2014 reading goals = accomplished!

Nick's Book Goal = 12 books
Nick's 2014 Book Count = 17 books

I seriously can't believe I did this. I know it may not seem like much for some people, but I feel really happy about reaching this goal and then some! As I may have mentioned before, reading is a very recent hobby of mine, (I'd say about 4 years or so) so to read 17 books in a year is a HUGE accomplishment for me!

Remember, you can find all this year's reads right here! Now for our December reads...

Sarah's Reads!

The Quick by Lauren Owen
From "1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling 'Doctor Knife.' But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England."

The Quick was my book club selection for the month and my overall feelings about it are... meh. Not that great. After reading that summary, I thought, "This book sounds cool!" but in actuality I just didn't think that was so. The book was boring. I'm over the whole vampire thing right now and *spoiler alert* that's what this book is about. In my opinion, it was just 500 pages of nothing happening. This book does have pretty decent reviews, but it just wasn't for me I guess.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Refinery29: Style Stalking by Piera Gelardi and Christine Barberich
From "Get set to build your best ever wardrobe featuring the hardest-working looks from around the globe with Refinery29—the world’s leading style destination—as their editors break down the essentials of the everyday chic, straight from the street. What transforms a look from on-trend to trendsetting? Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich and Executive Creative Director Piera Gelardi deconstruct their favorite outfits to reveal what trailblazing looks like on the real-life fashion front, including: How to wear modern metallics, mixed prints, everyday ladylike, tomboy chic, lots of layers, and more. Clever tips such as wearing one piece in three fresh ways, building blocks for discovering your own signature style, and updating your closet each season. And a zoom lens on all the details and accessories that totally make the look. Featuring the fashion world’s coolest tastemakers, designers, stylists, and editors, these fearless iconoclasts challenge conventions and inspire a whole new generation of women to dress for themselves and discover their true inner style stars... just like YOU."

I received this book from Blogging For Books for review. As I mentioned in this post, last month I started a new job and really wanted to get out of this work-wardrobe funk that I felt like I was in. I requested this book to read and review in hopes that it would provide me with a little inspiration to kick-start my closet. Style Stalking is full of fashion tips, from mixing prints to wearing layers to shopping for good vintage styles. There are a lot of outfits in the book that aren't exactly business casual/work appropriate and others that are a little bold for my personal style, but what's nice is that they kind of show you how to adjust these items to work for you. The photos in this book are also incredibly beautiful and full of color. Even if you don't want to read this cover to cover, it would still make a great coffee table book just to flip through and look at the lovely photos. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and will definitely use some of the tips to help enhance my personal style.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Surznick's Reads!

Dry by Augusten Burroughs
From "You may not know it, but you’ve met Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twentysomething guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click and that’s when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life—and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that’s as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is true. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power."

Sarah and I have both read a few books by Burroughs by now. His books are incredible, unbelievable, entertaining, frightening, and above all, hilarious. Though Dry contains all of those elements, the proportions are different. This book packs an incredibly real punch, with very dark and sad periods. The hilarious moments are still there, but you have to search for them. Dry was serious when it needed to be, and it delivered a message about sobriety and substance abuse that could not be ignored. We thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and though it was scary and eye opening, it gave us a more complete picture of the author. Burroughs has lived an incredible struggle, and his writing shows us just how he managed to live it, sparing no uncomfortable details.

Our Rating: 4 Stars

We hope that you all have a fabulous and safe NYE! See ya in 2015!

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Easy Crock Pot Makeover

A few months ago, my mom gave me an old crock pot that was passed around the family a bit, but no one needed it. It's not exactly the prettiest thing in the world, but I like that it's small and that Nick and I can use it for meals for the two of us, rather than pulling out our 5 quart crock pot.

I thought that using some leftover chalkboard paint from our coffee table project would be a fun way to spruce this baby up!

Here's what you need!
- 2 quart crock pot
- Rustoleum Specialty ChalkBoard Paint
- Paint brush
- Painter's tape or masking tape
- Chalk

Here's what you do!
- Tape off all the edges you want to keep free from paint.
- Paint it! After the first coat has dried for 4 hours, add a second coat. We only needed 2 coats for our crock pot.

- After the paint has completely dried, very carefully remove the tape. Have a razor handy to cut any edges that may cause your paint to peel up.
- Using a fine paint brush, tough up the edges if necessary.
- Allow the paint to dry for 3 days before conditioning it for writing. To condition the crock pot, you rub the side of a piece of chalk over the entire surface and wipe it clean with a damp rag or paper towel.
- Start writing! (And cooking!)

We tried doing a little research online to determine if the chalkboard paint is heat-safe, but we couldn't find much. So we decided to guinea pig this little project and are happy to report that it appears to work perfectly! I'm sure crock pot brands/styles will vary, but it seems like most of the heat in our crock pot stays in the crock itself and doesn't transfer to the outside/painted part. So no bubbling or peeling paint - all worked well!

Older crock pots like ours don't typically have removable crocks, so the entire crock pot has to be washed when we clean it. This means we'll likely have to recondition our paint frequently, but I see that as the only drawback!

Our new and improved crock pot is perfect for parties or pot lucks. I mean, how many times have you been to a pot luck and thought, "Hmm... I can't quite tell what's in that crock pot." Well with a little chalk you can make it plain as day right on the outside! This is also super convenient for labeling not only what your dish is, but if there's any dietary restrictions eaters should know about, i.e. "Contains nuts!" or in our case, "Dairy free!"

Have an old crock pot you'd like to give a makeover to? Give this method a try! And be sure to let us know in the comments, we'd love to see!

Sarah & Nick

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Morning Tofu Quiche

For Sarah and I, Christmas morning has always held the promise of two things: presents and a delicious breakfast. Often, that breakfast was some sort of sweet, sticky cinnamon bun or heavenly pastry. Luckily for us, our awesome parents have always taken the reigns and made sure we had something yummy to eat on Christmas morning, even if it meant waking up extra early to prepare it. This year, however, we wanted to come up with something that involved minimum morning work, but still gave us maximum deliciousness. This Simple Tofu Quiche we adapted from Minimalist Baker seemed like a perfect candidate, as we can get most of the prep work done the day before, and just pop it in the oven quick when we wake up Christmas morning!

Here's what you need:
- 4 cups frozen shredded hash browns (thawed, and dried with a paper towel)
- 2.5 tbsp. vegan butter (melted)
- Salt & Pepper
- 16 oz. block of tofu (we used extra firm)
- 3 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup hummus
- 1/2 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 bell pepper, chopped

Here's what you do:
The night or day before:
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and lightly grease a pie plate.
- In a medium bowl, mix together your shredded potatoes and melted butter. 
- Lightly salt and pepper your potato/butter mixture.

- With a spatula, press your potatoes into your pie plate, forming a crust. (Be sure to mold it up the sides of the plate as well, to hold all your filling in!)
- Place in the oven for 25 minutes, or until your potatoes brown all over. After it cools, cover and set aside until morning.
- While your crust is baking in the oven, prepare your veggies and wrap your tofu in paper towels to drain.

- Chop up whatever veggies you'll want in your quiche. (You can use anything! We only used onion and bell pepper. I chopped up the peppers with a knife, but someone complains that I never cut up the onion small enough so I had to use the SlapChop!)
- In a pan, heat some olive oil, and saute your veggies until soft. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

- In your food processor, combine your tofu, nutritional yeast, and hummus. It helps to break up the tofu into pieces so that it will all fit. Process until smooth - you may need to scrape the sides with a spatula a couple times.

- Once smooth, combine your tofu mixture and your veggies in a medium bowl. (Use the same bowl your hash browns were in to save on dishes!)
- This mixture can be covered and set in the refrigerator until morning!

The morning of:
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- Spread your tofu/veggie filling into your pre-baked potato crust, and smooth with a spatula.
- Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top browns and the tofu feels firm to the touch.

Topped with a little avocado and some sriracha or ketchup? OH YEAH! This would be perfect to get into the oven Christmas morning, go open gifts and have some coffee, and come back in 40 minutes to hot and ready breakfast! And on top of that, it's delicious and filling!

We hope everyone has a delicious day! If you're heading out of town for the holidays, we wish you safe travels and hope you have a wonderful time with friends and family!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our Harry Potter Christmas Tree

This year will be mine and Nick's third Christmas living together. Over the past few years, we've accumulated and made some ornaments for our Christmas tree, but not many of these ornaments have really felt personal to us.

Last year we finally decided to ditch the glittery star Walmart tree topper we had been using and we topped our tree with something that we both loved: The Sorting Hat from Harry Potter! This made our tree so different and unique and we loved that a bit of our personalities was finally shining through. So this year, we decided to go all out and make an entire Harry Potter themed tree!

Reading the HP books and watching the films always makes me yearn for the holidays. The scarves, the fireplaces, snowy walks in Hogsmeade, Mrs. Weasley's homemade sweaters... I just love it. Over the past few weekends, Nick and I have marathon-watched all 8 movies while making all sorts of Harry Potter ornaments to adorn our tree. Some ornaments we bought, some we made, and some we repurposed out of other ornaments. Overall, we had so much fun sipping butterbeers, watching Harry's adventures, and making all of the new ornaments that would bring our HP tree to life. Here's some of what we made!

We turned these plain red and green balls that we already had on hand into Gryffindor and Slytherin ornaments! We just printed out the crests and Mod Podged them to the balls.

Using shiny gold pipe cleaners, we turned these gold balls into Snitches!

Making clay ornaments is so easy! We made a few crests and lighting bolts to add to our tree.

Clear ornaments are perfect for filling with whatever you choose in order to customize your tree. We bought a set and filled some with red ribbon to make Remembralls. Others we filled with some flour to make Floo Powder!

Some sticks from our backyard make some perfect broomsticks! We just hot glued brown yarn to one end and they were ready for some Quidditch!

"Free Dobby" and "S.P.E.W." socks! Some old socks Nick had are just what a Free Elf needs!

We of course can't forget about the beloved Hedwig. This adorable little owl is sitting snugly in our tree branches. (We're kind of tempted to keep him out year round - he's so cute.)

A Harry Potter themed Christmas tree wouldn't be complete without a Gryffindor scarf! I knitted this scarf to tie around our tree and I just love it. I think this is really what brings the whole tree together and it's a unique alternative to tinsel or garland!

Last but not least, we brought out our trusty ol' Sorting Hat to sit atop our tree again. Clearly he's decided that our tree is a Gryffindor, and that works for us!

Have you ever had a themed Christmas tree? What are some of your favorite ornaments that mean a lot to you?

Sarah & Nick

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tofu Stuffed Shells

Since deciding to eat a (mostly) vegan diet, Nick and I have become kind of tofu obsessed. I never thought I would utter (or type) those words in my life, but it's true. We've already shared our tofu scramble with you, but today we're sharing our tofu-take on a dish that you probably already know and love: stuffed shells!

We adapted this recipe from Oh She Glows and it makes about 6-8 servings, so feel free to cut in half if needed. We had about 35 shells, or two pie plates worth. Tons of leftovers for Nick and I, which is always good during a busy week!

This recipe is easy, delicious, and vegan. Want to give it a try?

Here's what you need!
- Marinara sauce (As much or as little as you want, we use almost an entire jar)
- 35-40 pasta shells (Since some may break, we cook the entire box)
- Olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 Spanish onion, diced
- 1 tbsp. dried basil
- 1 tbsp. dried parsley
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 32 oz. (2 packages) firm or extra firm tofu, pressed dry
- 4 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a very large casserole dish or two pie plates.
- Cook pasta shells until al dente, drain, and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add garlic and diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions are caramelized. Add in basil, parsley, and salt & pepper and stir.
- In a food processor, combine tofu (break into large chunks in order to fit) and lemon juice. Blend until creamy, like ricotta cheese.
- Add tofu ricotta to onions and mix in nutritional yeast. Stir until well combined and remove from heat.
- Spoon about 1 cup marinara sauce into each pie plate. Spread until the bottom of each dish is covered.

- Add about 2-3 tbsp. tofu ricotta mixture to each stuffed shell and place in dish with the shell opening up. Top shells with additional marinara sauce and any leftover tofu ricotta mixture.
- Cover dish(es) with foil and poke several air holes. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through.
- Top with some additional parsley and vegan parmesean cheese (optional). Make some garlic bread too if you're feeling that. And eat!

This dish is so satisfyingly good. I absolutely love finding vegan recipes that are so similar to my favorite non-vegan comfort foods. If you're still on the fence about tofu, all I can say is give this dish a try - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Happy cooking!

Sarah & Nick


Happy Friday and 12th of December! Holy cow, it's hard to believe December is almost half way over already. Nick and I have a really fun weekend ahead of us (New York City!!!) and I thought to kick off this weekend awesomeness, I would add even more fun into the mix and participate in the 12x12x12 photo challenge that's happening today.

It's super simple: share 12 photos on 12/12 recapping your year. This was one of the toughest years I've had in awhile, but it was also filled with so many amazing moments that I can't resist doing a little recap of the highlights. There are many, many, many photos to choose from, but I decided to go through my Instagram account and pull one photo from each month. I hope you enjoy! (And sorry for the graininess - phone photos!)


Nick and I celebrated 5 years together! Can't believe that next month it'll be 6 years already. He asked me to be his girlfriend over an episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8. What a romantic.


February seemed quiet according to my Instagram. Quiet is good though. I've been wanting a lot of quiet lately, but the past few months have been non-stop crazy. I'm actually anticipating a really calm and relaxing Christmas this year and I absolutely can't wait.


The Avett Brothers!!! Any month where I'm blessed with Scott & Seth's presence is pure heaven. This was the best show. (Yes, we were this close!)


Nick and Boog playing a show at a pinball cafe in Lawrenceville. I love seeing the two of them play together. Makes me miss college days.


One year of living in Pittsburgh! We still love our neighborhood as much as the day we moved in.


My first and last froyo experience. Too pretty not to share.


The highlight of July and probably my entire year: our trip to San Francisco! If you want to see a bajillion more photos of this trip, you can find them here!


Visits from my best gal, Bethany. We enjoyed beers on Mt. Washington on an absolutely gorgeous day with amazing views of the city (Heinz Field is pictured).


25th birthday! I loved my birthday dress. I bought it 5 years ago but never wore it because it looks like a QR code (haha). But I finally brought it out for birthday festivities this year and it was perfect.


You already know we had an awesome October between Fall Day and our Halloween Party, but one of my favorite highlights each October is the card we receive annually from our over-caffeinated Halloween secret admirer (aka Mom).


A Saturday morning coffee date with Nick and walking around Oakland. I love this locks bridge. Who needs Paris when you have Pittsburgh?


I know December isn't over, but my favorite moment so far was celebrating Nick's 25th birthday. I did kind of terrible job on his cake, but it almost looks intentional, so I'm rolling with it. At least my decorations were cute!

What are some of your favorite moments of 2014? Join me in the 12x12x12 challenge and share your photos with the hashtag #121212! Have a lovely weekend!

xo, Sarah