June 2015 - The Surznick Common Room

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Surznick Reads: June 2015

We are half way through 2015. HALF WAY! Can you believe it?! Even though the year is flying by, I'm happy that we've both kept up with our reading goals so far!

This month I want to start off with something other than our monthly reads. At the end of May we attended a Chuck Palahniuk lecture and it was SO AWESOME that I just wanted to share!

I'm sure you're already familiar with Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club, Survivor, Choke, Invisible Monsters, and many, many others). I think I read my first Chuck book (Fight Club, obviously) when I was in 9th grade and I've been a fan ever since. His lecture, held at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland, was unlike any other book lecture we've ever attended. Each attendee received a signed first edition of his new book, Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread, and a signed copy of Fight Club 2, Issue 1, the first in the series of the comic book sequel. All these presents! Just for attending! We were lucky enough to snag seats in the very front row and Chuck walked around (in a robe and slippers, I might add), to introduce himself to fans before the start of the lecture - something I haven't really seen before.

Chuck also gave everyone in the crowd a light-up beach ball that we used throughout the night for dodgeball dance parties! He threw out bags of candy! He gave away more signed book copies (even leather-bound gilt-edged copies!) The guy really knows how to please a crowd.

After reading several short stories from his new book and answering questions from the audience, he closed out the night by having us give a hand to everyone that helped put together the event. In return, he "gave us a hand", literally, in the form of these autographed limbs. I would expect nothing less from Mr. Palahniuk.

If you ever have the chance to attend a lecture from Chuck Palahniuk, I highly recommend it - we had so much fun! Also, if you haven't read any of his books before, you should do yourself a favor and get on that too (start with the classics!)

Okay, now on to the reads! Just me this month, you guys. Someone *cough, Nick, cough* will be back to share next month!

Bossypants by Tina Fey
From Amazon.com: "Before Liz Lemon, before 'Weekend Update,' before 'Sarah Palin,' Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon - from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy."

Tina Fey is the best, isn't she? I can't believe it took me so long to read this book. My friend gifted it to me for Christmas and I finally read it this month to help ease some "bored with books" struggles as of late. I read this in two evenings. Just so dang good. If you love Tina Fey's humor, you're going to love this book. Her stories are hilarious and heartwarming, and I love getting a deeper look into the life of someone I can admire so much. If you haven't read Bossypants yet, I highly, highly recommend it.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
From Amazon.com: "In America, it is soccer. But in Great Britain, it is the real football. No pads, no prayers, no prisoners. And that’s before the players even take the field. Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom - its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young men’s coming-of-age stories. Fever Pitch is one for the home team. But above all, it is one for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season."

These are the only things I knew about this book prior to reading it: 1) It was made into a movie starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, and 2) The movie was about baseball. That's it. I picked up this book from Goodwill last year and was really looking forward to reading it. The first Nick Hornby book I read (A Long Way Down) was sooooo good that I wanted to read more from him ASAP. You can imagine my surprise when I started reading this book and discovered it is Hornby's memoir about football (or soccer to us Americans). And it is only. about. soccer. Just accounts of different soccer games, over and over. All in all, I surprisingly didn't hate it. I love Nick Hornby's writing style, and he actually made soccer seem a bit interesting to me, but I can't say I'd read it again.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cookie Butter Puppy Chow

Does that title have you drooling already? Me too. We all know that the holy grail of Trader Joe's is their Speculoos Cookie Butter, AKA heaven in a jar. On toast, fruit, a spoon, you name it - cookie butter is just so dang delicious.

Recently I was thinking about the chocolate strawberry puppy chow we made for Valentine's Day. It was so good and easy to make, so I decided it was time to whip up another batch. That's when it hit me - if regular puppy chow is made with peanut butter, it would be completely possible (and amazing) to make puppy chow with cookie butter! Hooray!

I know you're gonna want to make this puppy chow too, so here's what you need!
- 5 cups rice Chex cereal
- 2/3 cup Speculoos Cookie Butter
- 1/2 cup chocolate cake mix (Duncan Hines is vegan)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Here's what you do!
- In a microwave-safe bowl, melt cookie butter stirring frequently. It should be heated until pourable. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine cake mix and powdered sugar.
- In a large bowl or freezer bag, combine rice chex and melted cookie butter. Shake or stir together until all pieces of chex are covered. We used a large Tupperware container and shook it around to cover each piece.
- Add cake mix/powdered sugar mixture and shake or stir until all pieces are covered. And... eat!

Just soooo good. If you don't have a Trader Joe's where you live, A) I am very sorry to hear that, B) You can buy cookie butter on Amazon, like Nick's brother does!, and C) YOU CAN TOTALLY MAKE YOUR OWN! No matter what you need to do to get this recipe made, I highly recommend you do it.

Have a great week!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Coffee Mug Pegboard

Sorry we've been MIA again lately - just over here being busy, busy, busy. Between Father's Day at Nick's parents house, concerts, going-away parties, and getting ready for my best friend's wedding this weekend, life has been a whirlwind! Our next free weekend won't come until the 1st of August, which has me equal parts excited and stressed.

Anywho, we recently added a fun addition to our kitchen that I absolutely love. Sometimes I get a little bit of inspiration in my head and I won't let go of it until I can make it come to fruition. That is precisely what happened with this project - a coffee mug pegboard!

A couple months ago, Nick and I created a little "coffee bar" area in our kitchen so that our coffee maker, French press, coffee, filters, syrups, etc. can all be in one place. It's been really nice to help clean up space on our counter, but I wanted to improve it even more by having our mugs easily accessible too.

We hung the pegboard using the washers technique we mentioned in this post. Then we just added some simple hooks and hung up our mugs! I know we don't have the prettiest mug collection, but oh well - this is what we have! One day I will curate a cute mug collection that will make this pegboard even prettier. The black and white painted mugs are a DIY you can find here.

We also added a digital coffee print that I purchased from Arrow & Apple and had printed via Mpix. Sarah's photographs are so amazing and when I saw this one, I couldn't pass it up (even though we are serious black coffee lovers in this house!) I wish our kitchen was whiter and brighter so these photos wouldn't look so yellow and grainy, but we're renters so we work with what we have! I hope you still like this little pegboard and that it inspires you to add something similar to your home.

So tell us... how do you take your coffee? #BLACKCOFFEEFOREVER

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Our Summer To-Do Lists 2015 (+ Giveaway!)

This Sunday is not only Father's Day, but the official start of summer 2015! I may not be super keen on the summer heat, but I definitely enjoy all of the amazing activities that summer has to offer. Nick and I decided to make Summer To-Do Lists again this year and we're so excited to share them with you! (You can read our 2014 lists here.) Don't forget to check out the $200 Target giveaway at the bottom of the post!

Sarah: My list last year was a combination of fun activities to do and a bit of housekeeping/chore type things. This summer, I want to take full advantage of the amazing city we live in, so I made my list all activities to do in and around Pittsburgh. Here it goes!

1. Visit a new-to-us Pittsburgh brewery
I'm thinking maybe Grist House, Rock Bottom, or Independent.
2. Go to the drive-in movie theater
This was on Nick's list last year but it never happened. We're lucky enough to have two drive-ins close by, and I already bought an awesome Groupon for Twin Hi-Way Drive-In, so that's where we'll be heading soon!

3. Visit Randyland
An awesome art space in the Northside. Check out the Randyland hashtag on IG!
4. Swim at the Highland Park pool
We've never been to our neighborhood pool!
5. Ride the PNC Carousel in Schenley Plaza
I haven't been on a carousel in years!

6. Go to Escape Room
You can read about it here.
7. Get ice cream at Oh Yeah!
A coffee and ice cream spot near our apartment that has dairy-free ice cream. I'm dying to go!

8. Visit Sandcastle water park
A Pittsburgh staple that I've never been to. The lazy river calls my name.
9. Go to a Pirates game for fireworks night
The fireworks at PNC Park are truly amazing and I would love to see them again!
10. Attend a PDP Rooftop Shindig
My friend Christine just covered them on her blog and it looks so fun!

Nick: Some of these are new, some are old - rolled over from last year. Generally speaking, I want to get out more! Out of the house, exploring new nooks and crannies of the city, and trying new things sounds like the perfect summer.

1. Kayak on the rivers
I've only been out on the rivers once. That's just not acceptable.

2. Watch a movie at Row House Cinema
Once again, Sarah has an eagle eye for excellent Groupons. We'll be visiting soon, and I'm stoked.
3. Take a road trip
FL to PA? I see something very similar to this in my future...
4. Record some original songs
I have about five new songs ready to go, I just need to lay them down!
5. Visit Fallingwater
It's close!

6. Read more/relax more OUTSIDE
I so often forget that I actually have a front porch and a back yard. I need to use them more!
Last year I gave myself a number to achieve. This year, if I'm running, I'm happy!
8. Visit La Hütte Royal
I know almost nothing about this, but every picture I've ever seen looks amazing.
9. Visit more local coffee shops.
I'm thinking Constellation Coffee, Carnegie Coffee Co. etc...

10. Go to the beach!
The beach. A beach. Any beach.

What's on your summer to-do list? I can think of something that would help make your summer pretty awesome... a Target gift card! We've teamed up with a bunch of other bloggers to give away a gift card to one lucky winner!

There are three ways to win - follow on Instagram, like a photo daily, and comment on a photo daily. See the Rafflecopter widget below for the IG links to all participating bloggers and make sure you enter daily! The giveaway ends 6/30/15 and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified by email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway organized by Oh My Gosh Beck! Email becky@ohmygoshbeck.com with any questions. Click here to see more giveaway opportunities. Good luck!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, June 15, 2015

Out of the Kitchen: Square Cafe

Nick and I are always on the lookout for a new brunch spot. Cutting meat and dairy out of our diet has drastically lowered the number of places we can go to eat, so when I hear about a restaurant that has vegan options, my heart may actually skip a beat because I LOVE BREAKFAST.

This past weekend we decided to check out Square Cafe in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We heard about Square Cafe awhile ago, thanks to Vegan Pittsburgh's comprehensive list of vegan restaurants in the city. I also found a Groupon that saved us $9 so it was definitely a win-win.

When we arrived at Square Cafe, the place looked packed both inside and outside, but our wait was surprisingly short. The restaurant is super bright and colorful inside - lime green everywhere! The walls were also adorned with photos for sale from a local photographer. Seating is a little tight inside, but still comfortable. The service was super friendly and quick for as busy as they were. Overall, a great little spot that we'll definitely be checking out again. Now on to the important stuff... our food!

Nick: I love sweet... and I love savory. But if you put the two in front of me, I become instantly blinded by the sweet and can't say no. (Though, I often wish I had the will power to remind myself I'd actually prefer a more savory dish, as I tend to regret an overly sweet breakfast.) I open the menu and BOOM! Vegan Banana Pancakes. Sold. Menu shut. These were really quite fantastic. They were just the right sweetness, too. The cakes alone didn't have an overwhelming sweetness to them. Instead they had really great and fresh banana flavor (with loads of real banana stuffed inside) and the syrup brought just enough sugar to the taste. Overall it was a great balance of flavors and I would have definitely eaten more than three if they sold them that way!

Sarah: I'm more of a savory over sweet kind of person when it comes to breakfast, so I ordered the Soy Chorizo & Tofu Hash (Soy chorizo & tofu tossed with potatoes, shallots, mushrooms, and asparagus. Served with dry ciabatta.) I liked my dish, but it was a little spicier than I was anticipating. The spice and the addition of asparagus made it seem more like a dinner dish than a breakfast dish, but again, it was still yummy and I definitely cleared my plate! The ciabatta bread was delicious. I topped it with some jelly and it was perfect. It looks like a hard loaf of bread, but was actually super airy on the inside.

Of course, our quick iPhone photos don't do this delicious food justice, so I guess you'll have just to go check it out for yourself! Thanks for letting us share! If you know of any amazing brunch spots with vegan options, don't hesitate to let us know :)

Sarah & Nick

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cute Summer Dresses

It's getting really, really hot in Pittsburgh. Definitely too hot if you ask me, because I am an autumn/winter baby through and through. I'm not sure if you know, but I don't do well in heat. It can make me a pretty miserable and unbearable person (but hey, at least I admit it!) Regardless, every year summer makes its way back into my life and I try to embrace it as much as I can, mostly in the form of shorts and breezy summer dresses!

If you're looking for some adorable and inexpensive dresses to add to your closet this summer, I've got you covered. My friends at ZNU have a pre-Father's Day sale going on right now where you can save 35% on orders over $35! They have a variety of dresses in all styles, colors, and patterns. Here are some of my favorites!

one / two / three / four

Want to know the best part? These dresses range in price from $10 to $25 - yep, you're reading that right! The red ZNU dress I'm wearing above is only $19! (You can see more photos of this dress here.)

So you want to know how to take advantage of the pre-Father's Day sale? Here's all the details!

And to make this deal even sweeter, ZNU is offering up a coupon for $16 to any of our readers that share this promo with their friends! Here's the rules!
1. Share this promotion on your social media platform(s)
2. Create an account on ZNU.com
3. Like ZNU on Facebook
4. Email marketing@znu.com with links to your shared posts and they will send you the coupon code!

To see even more summer dresses, head over to ZNU.com! So which dress is your favorite? Leave me a comment here letting me know!

A special thanks to ZNU for sponsoring this post! Have a fun weekend, everyone!

xo, Sarah

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Vegan Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

Well, as of June 6th, it has officially been a full year since Sarah and I last ate meat! This last year has been a whirlwind of new foods and experimentation, and I can't even believe I was able to piece together 3 meals a day without meat (and most of those meals without dairy either!) Looking back on the food we ate over the last 12 months, this dish definitely sticks out in my mind.

It's great to have parents that are willing to cook special meals for us when we visit our respective hometowns. A few months back, when visiting my parents for Easter, my mom made this awesome vegan lasagna for us that we just loved (and had to steal)!

Here's what you need! (Recipe adapted from Food Network)
For the filling:
- 16 oz. firm or extra firm tofu (drained and pressed)
- 10 oz. package frozen spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
- 8 oz. vegan cream cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- 3 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1 clove garlic, whole

For the sauce:
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves thinly sliced garlic
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 lb. sliced white mushrooms
- 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1 cup water

For assembly:
- Vegan shredded mozzarella
- No-boil lasagna noodles

Here's what you do:

To prepare the filling:
- Thaw, drain, and squeeze out the liquid from the spinach.
- Drain and press the tofu (we usually use paper towels).
- Add all filling ingredients to your food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.

To prepare the sauce:
- Add olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. Add sliced garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant (a minute or less).
- Add the mushrooms, cook undisturbed for 3 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 more minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, water, and Kosher salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes, until much of the water is evaporated.

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease a 9x13 inch casserole dish and add a thin layer of the red sauce to the bottom.
- Layer no-boil noodles, spinach filling, red sauce, and sprinkle a bit of mozzarella cheese. (It's okay if your noodles overlap a little bit. I broke some of mine to get into all the corners of the dish too.) Repeat with 2-3 additional layers until your ingredients are used up.
- On the top layer, finish with noodles and sauce.
- Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese, and bake an additional 15 minutes.

The recipe and ingredient list may seem a bit lengthy, but this lasagna is just fantastic and completely worth it. The spinach filling mixed with the mozzarella and red sauce makes it so creamy and satisfying. I've never been a mushroom person, but this dish is single handedly opening my eyes to the possibilities. I love the flavors we get with the tomatoes and mushrooms in the sauce!

If you give this recipe a try, be sure to let us know!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, June 8, 2015


This past weekend was really, really awesome. Saturday was the day that I (and 55,000 other Pittsburghers) have been awaiting for months... T. SWIFT DAY. Last night we got to see Taylor Swift on the 1989 World Tour and to say it was incredible would be an understatement.

The morning before the show, Nick and I met up with my friend and fellow blogger, Christine, to snap some photos of our Tay Day looks! We unintentionally both showed up in black and white outfits with red lipstick - great minds think alike!

Your outfit for a Taylor Swift concert needs to be well thought out because you know everyone is going to bring their A-game. Christine and I skipped on the homemade "I LOVE YOU TAYLOR" t-shirts and instead went with comfy but cute looks that I think Miss Swift herself would approve of.

I decided to wear my Marauder's Map tank that I bought on Etsy last year. I love this shirt so much and I get compliments every time I wear it. (I'm definitely going to be the fangirl wearing it at Harry Potter World next month too.) I paired my tank with high waisted black shorts, a simple black belt, and flat black sandals.

You probably recognize my sunglasses and bag too - they're my staple accessories. I threw them on with my red lipstick, braided back my newly short hair, and I was good to go! We spent the entire day out in the sun, so I wanted to make sure I stayed cool and comfortable all day. This look did the trick!

The Marauder's Map tank top\Etsy (exact)
Black high waisted shorts\ModCloth (exact old, similar)
Black sandals\Forever 21 (exact)
Sunglasses\Fossil via T.J. Maxx (exact old, similar)
Crossbody Purse\Urban Outfitters (exact old, similar)

For all the details on Christine's look, go check out her blog, Belle of the Burgh! And just for fun, here's some photos from the show! You can catch a video of "Shake It Off" over on my Instagram too :) Have a great week!

Sarah & Nick