2016 - The Surznick Common Room

Friday, December 23, 2016

Surznick Reads: December 2016

Surznick Reads? With a week left in December? That's right! We're taking next week off but wanted to share what we read this month (thus far) before we head out to unwind, relax, and spend time together for the holidays.

Unlike in past years, we aren't going to be sharing a recap of book goals and how we did, but we'll just say... not our best reading year. Working on a house is kind of a time-suck. Regardless, we read some great things this year and this month was especially superb. See more below, tell us what you're reading in the comments, and most importantly - have a safe and happy holiday!

Sarah's Reads!

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
From Amazon.com: "Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and '10 percent defiant...' In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations. With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can - from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial 'dating experiments' (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual 'man-child.' Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from 'scrappy little nobody' to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page - with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious)."

We all love Anna Kendrick, right? I've been excited about Scrappy Little Nobody since I learned Anna was writing it. She's smart, hilarious, and pretty much says whatever she wants. She's one of those celebrities that you already feel like you're best friends with. While there were times in the story where I thought she was trying to come off as annoyingly relatable, I otherwise found the stories inspiring, funny, and heartwarming. I cried, I laughed, I wanted to shake Anna and tell her that paying bills on time is not that hard. Overall, a quick, fun, and easy read - if you like Anna, give it a try!

My Rating: 4 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Tranny by Laura Jane Grace
From Amazon.com: "It began in a bedroom in Naples, Florida, when a misbehaving punk teenager named Tom Gabel, armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a headful of anarchist politics, landed on a riff. Gabel formed Against Me! and rocketed the band from its scrappy beginnings-banging on a drum kit made of pickle buckets-to a major-label powerhouse that critics have called this generation's The Clash. Since its inception in 1997, Against Me! has been one of punk's most influential modern bands, but also one of its most divisive... But underneath the public turmoil, something much greater occupied Gabel-a secret kept for 30 years, only acknowledged in the scrawled-out pages of personal journals and hidden in lyrics. Through a troubled childhood, delinquency, and struggles with drugs, Gabel was on a punishing search for identity. Not until May of 2012 did a Rolling Stone profile finally reveal it: Gabel is a transsexual, and would from then on be living as a woman under the name Laura Jane Grace. Tranny is the intimate story of Against Me!'s enigmatic founder, weaving the narrative of the band's history, as well as Grace's, with dozens of never-before-seen entries from the piles of journals Grace kept. More than a typical music memoir about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll-although it certainly has plenty of that-Tranny is an inside look at one of the most remarkable stories in the history of rock."

I'm not even sure where to begin. There are literally countless reasons why I loved this book. The inspiring chapters about making it in a punk rock band, DIY ethics, sharing anarchistic values with a close-knit community, self-identity, substance abuse, mental health, breaking out of your small community to find meaning and purpose on a larger scale, you name it. Laura Jane Grace is a flat out inspiration with an incredible story. Her journey through not only gender liberation and identification, but also as a successful underground punk and as a commercial punk rock "sellout" is told through some of the most captivating writing I've read in a long time. I'm a better person for reading this book, and I think everyone can take something away from her experience, be it creatively, personally, socially, politically, or morally. A truly important book, and I urge all of you to read it.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Again, have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday! We are so grateful to you for reading The Surznick Common Room. It's been quite a year - for this blog, this world, for everyone. We are thankful to have this space where we can share what's going on with our lives and we hope that you'll continue to stick around in 2017. Thank you.

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pittsburgh Day of Giving

Hi, happy Wednesday! Today marks the first day of winter (which we are definitely feeling here in the Burgh) and we are only four short days away from Christmas. As mentioned in Monday's Lately post, we are working our way through our Holiday To-Do List, trying to tackle as much as we can before the cookies are eaten and the ornaments are packed away.

2016 has been a strange year with many highs and lows. The past couple months have really shown us that we need to do more to take care of others and our community, not just this holiday season, but year-round. Volunteering was a big to-do on our list and we started earlier this month by helping out at Wigle Whiskey's Annual Spectacular Tree Sale, but we are always looking for more ways that we can contribute locally. We recently discovered that we share this sentiment with some of our Pittsburgh blogging friends, so today several of us have teamed up to share a "Day of Giving" on our blogs. Nick and I wanted to share some of the local organizations that are important to us and hopefully inspire you to find ways to help out in your community.

Sarah: For the past couples years, I have volunteered with the Everybody Wins! program through Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Pittsburgh. Everybody Wins! is a literacy mentoring program that helps local elementary students foster a love of reading. I learned of the program through my coworkers, and each week a group of us visit our reading buddies to read books and play games together. You can learn more about volunteer opportunities here.

Nick: As you may have heard me mention once (or a few times) before, one of my favorite local organizations is 412 Food Rescue. This incredible organization helps to bridge the gap between food waste and those in need. From their website: "412 Food Rescue works with food retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, caterers, universities and other food providers to rescue un-sellable, but perfectly good food" and deliver it to those in need. It's super simple to sign up to rescue food, and you can choose to do it whenever a rescue matches with your availability. They also have an incredible new app that makes rescuing food super simple!
Don't forget to visit our friends below to see how they are giving back and spreading kindness this holiday season! See more with #PGHgivesBack!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, December 19, 2016

Lately... (IX)

Well here we are, slowly sliding into our Christmas vacation, getting ready for some extreme relaxation and recovery. I say sliding, but it's more like we're sprinting toward it, basically avoiding doing any real work as often as possible. The holidays are an awesome time, but trying to stay motivated with the promise of a nice week off can be difficult!

This past weekend, Sarah and I spent some time up north at my parent's house, showering my sister Emily with gifts for her first baby arriving this February! Sarah and I are beyond excited to be Uncle Nick and Aunt Sarah. We had a great time seeing family and taking in all the super cute baby girl gifts for my sister.

In our free time lately, we've been deferring to the Holiday To-Do List to see what sorts of things we want to do to make our holiday season feel extra special. We're getting really excited to spend our first Christmas in the house, and it's so insane that it's less than a week away!

Cookies have been baked, the tree has been trimmed, some decorations have been put up, and we've spent a bit of time volunteering in our community as well. The Surznick Ranch is in a non-stop state of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra Christmas tunes pumping through the speakers and seasonal scented candles burning.

We already have our mental gears turning as we look forward to the New Year. Now that the basement has come together so nicely, we're starting to formulate some plans for the bedrooms upstairs and our dining area. Hopefully 2017 will be a big year for our house and you'll all get to see some beautiful updates!

Sarah & Nick

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sunday Funday Newsletter

Did you know that every week The Surznick Common Room sends out a newsletter full of stuff that you aren't seeing here on the blog? We've been writing our weekly Sunday Funday since this past spring and we really want YOU to subscribe!

Every Sunday you'll get an update on the prior week's posts (in case you miss one here), plus what we're craving, our favorite blog posts of the week, sneak peeks, behind the scenes, and more!

If you aren't a regular blog reader, this is our way of making it easier for you to see our posts each week. We're close to hitting our first subscriber milestone and we'd love for you to help us reach it! To get more Common Room in your inbox, please subscribe below! (We promise we'll only email you once a week!)

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As always, thank you for your support! We hope you have a great weekend getting those last-minute presents!

xo, Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Holiday Cookies

As Sarah and I work through our Holiday To-Do List, one I was most looking forward to was making our holiday cookies. We've never baked cookies on a "holiday" size scale before, so this was new territory for us.

There are about ten zillion cookie recipes out there, and I'm sure you don't need to look much further than your own mom to find the recipes to some of your favorites. However, we decided to just take a stab in the dark and try a few from around the internet. If you're interested in some simple recipes that may be new to you, here are the 3 we went with this year (so far)!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies by Betty Crocker

Holiday Chocolate Truffles by Cupcakes and Cashmere

One Bowl Vegan Sugar Cookies by Minimalist Baker

Each of the above recipes can be made vegan (or not) if you so desire! They're all super simple and extremely delicious. We had such a good time making these and blasting some jazzy holiday tunes on the record player. The house smells amazing (yes, still!) and I have more cookies than I know what to do with, so I'm a happy camper. Please post below with your favorite holiday cookie recipe, we'd love to explore more ideas!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, December 12, 2016

Basement Drop Ceiling Makeover with Home Depot

Last month Nick and I took on the task of redoing our basement drop ceiling with the help of our friends at Home Depot. Our basement had your standard drop ceiling - old, yellowed, crumbling tiles hung from a brown frame. It wasn't doing our basement any favors, and after giving the walls a fresh coat of white paint, the drop ceiling stuck out like a sore thumb.

A full basement renovation isn't in our house budget for a few years, but we knew we could make the ceiling look better in the mean time with a white frame and some crisp new tiles. We're so thankful that we got to work with Home Depot on this project to make our basement look 1000x better. Click over to their blog today to read about the full makeover and see more photos of our new and improved drop ceiling!

Sarah & Nick

Friday, December 9, 2016

5 Weekend Trips We're Dying to Take

It's hard to believe we're nearly a third of the way through December (!!!) January is going to be here SO quickly, but we're also kind of excited because we'll be heading to Nashville for a long weekend! We can't wait for a few days away to explore a new city, try some new food, and spend time together sans work.

We've talked about it before, but a quick weekend trip is one of our favorite ways to travel. While it's nice to spend a week or more away, it's often more practical for us to travel for the weekend (i.e. it's cheaper and we don't have to take time off work!) We've started taking a quick trip every January (over MLK Day Weekend) - last year was Chicago and this year is Nashville (hopefully we'll find warmer weather there.)

We have quite a few destinations that we'd love to travel to, even if it's only for a couple of days. These are our top 5 weekend trips we're dying to take, a) because these cities seem awesome and b) they're inexpensive/easy for us to get to from PGH! By the way... our favorite way to find great flight prices is through Airfarewatchdog.com. You NEED to use it.

1. Toronto, ON, Canada
Toronto is actually a pretty quick drive from PGH, so we need to go ASAP. The first trip Nick and I took together was to Niagara Falls and we've been wanting to visit Canada again ever since. Our friends Sarah and Joel went to Toronto a couple months ago and it just looks so colorful and fun! Plus there's a Harry Potter bar, so what's not to love?

2. Atlanta, GA
"Hotlanta" - Nelly. In all seriousness, Atlanta has a lot of great bars and restautants we'd love to visit. If you can snag a flight during a Southwest Airlines sale, it's practically pennies to get there too.

3. New Orleans, LA
Beignets, live music, incredible food, booze, and night life galore. This seems like such a rich, historical, and cultural city that is so fun with lots to do. We planned a trip there this year, but it fell through. It's definitely still high on the list!

4. Denver, CO
When it comes to vacations, we are not beach people - give us cold weather and mountains (I mean, we willingly went to Chicago in January...) We've always wanted to see the Rocky Mountains and visit friends that have relocated to Denver in the past few years. It seems so beautiful there!

5. Las Vegas, NV
If we don't seem like the gambling types, it's because we're not. BUT! There's so much more to do in Las Vegas than casinos (at least, I'm told...) If we're being completely honest though, Las Vegas is only a car ride away from the Grand Canyon, which is our main draw to there. We'd also REALLY love to see the Seven Magic Mountains installation while it's up. So pretty.

In case you need a little weekend travel inspiration, read about our trips to Chicago, DC, Ithaca, Cleveland, and Lakewood! What are some of your favorite destinations for a weekend trip? Do you have any Nashville recommendations for us? Share in the comments!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Trees at Wigle Whiskey

Back when Sarah and I made our holiday to-do list, we wanted to make sure "volunteer" was somewhere on the list. Hopefully this will soon become part of our everyday lives and routines, and not a feature on the blog. I believe that the things we do that matter the most are the things we do when no one is looking (someone, somewhere said that - certainly not me - but I don't know who...) That being said, since we mentioned volunteering for the holidays, we wanted to spread the word about an awesome and fun way to support some local nonprofit work in the Pittsburgh area!

Wigle Whiskey is making giving this season easy and fun with their 2nd Annual Spectacular Tree Sale! At this awesome event, you can visit Wigle's Barrelhouse in the Northside to purchase a Christmas tree and get a cocktail on the house. All proceeds from Christmas tree sales go to two local organizations: The Children's Institute and 412 Food Rescue.

Attending this event last weekend was a no-brainer for us, as it combined a few of our favorite things - local craft spirits, a whiskey barrelhouse tour, hot apple cider, Christmas trees, pizza, and helping our local community. We had a blast, but more importantly, we're so happy that money for our first ever real tree for our new house went to support The Children's Institute.

Luckily for everyone who didn't make it, you can go again this upcoming Saturday and Sunday! We will be volunteering, so be sure to come out to the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse next weekend to support 412 Food Rescue. Sarah will be greeting you at the gates, and I'll be slinging trees through the baler, or tying them (hopefully safely? I'm sure I'll do fine, maybe) to the roof of your car.

Be sure to RSVP and read more about this event here! In addition to Christmas trees, a free cocktail, and helping a local organization, you can also celebrate Wigle's Italian Christmas with the release of their newest spirit!

What are some other ways you will be giving back to your communities this holiday season? We'd love to hear about the great work you all are doing, and we hope to see you at Wigle this weekend!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Few Birthday Words from Nick!

Well folks, here we are. December 5th, my birthday. This past weekend was a heaping load of love and fun thanks to the incomparable Sarah. I just wanted to share a few snaps from the weekend and say a little something to you all. 

Basically, I didn't really want to write a "happy birthday to meeeeee!!" post, so I just wanted to take a moment out of our normal schedule to say thanks. Thanks to our families (human and feline), thanks to Sarah for always being the best of the best, and thanks to all of you for sticking around the blog and our lives. I'm one lucky guy, for more reasons than I could ever list, and I owe much of that to those around me, and the communities I am proud to be a part of. I also want to remind everyone that these communities we choose to surround ourselves with are the most imporant parts of our lives. Please remember in these strange times to lift each other up, advocate for others, and support your neighbors near and far. 

With that all being said, I hope everyone has a great week ahead, and that all of you can get into the winter season. I truly love me some cold weather and some serious snowfall. I know this sounds strange, but I've got my fingers crossed for a brutal winter... assuming everyone can stay safe.
Thank you all for everything, stay safe, enjoy your winter months, have fun, and I love you all!


Friday, December 2, 2016

Pittsburgh Blogger Posts We Love (IV)

via Zoe With Love
Happy December! Crazy, right? It's hard to believe that in less than a month we'll be ringing in the new year. It was tough getting back into the swing of things this week after a long Thanksgiving break, so we're just going to keep it casual today and share some of our favorite posts this week from other Pittsburgh bloggers. Have a great weekend!

1. Wavy Alabaster - Tips & Sips: George Dickel Tennessee Whisky
I loved reading about Jessa's trip to the George Dickel Whisky Distillery in Tennessee, but I was also insanely jealous. We're heading to Nashville next month - I'm hoping to try this when we're there!

2. Gretch Runs - Tasty Tuesday: November Favorites
Since Gretchen has started eating a vegan diet, I'm so excited to see what she's making for dinner (shared on her Snapchat) and in her weekly Tasty Tuesday posts. It inspires me to get more creative with our meals - I need to make the burrito bowl she shared this week!

3. A Trace of Cool - 15 Gifts Under $100 for the Cat Lover
This post was made for me, right? Trace rounded up some awesome gift ideas for all those fellow cat ladies I have in my life. Someone get me those pot holders!

4. Zoe With Love - How to Wear White Lace in Winter
I'm in love with how Zoe styled this white lace dress for cooler weather! I have yet to try wearing a sweater over a dress, but if it always looks this cute, I need to give it a go!

5. How Sweet It Is - Bacon Butternut Arancini with Pumpkin Seed Pesto Dip
Okay, so we don't eat meat and rarely have dairy, so technically we wouldn't make this recipe, but it looks SO good that I just had to share. Maybe I'll try veganizing it? I make a mean vegan risotto...

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Surznick Reads: November 2016

Here we are again! Another month, another blur of existence, and another two books for the Surznick library. Despite being super busy, completing start to finish one of our biggest projects to date (more to come soon!), and traveling out of town for Thanksgiving, we somehow managed to squeeze in a couple of books.

Sarah's Reads!

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
From Amazon.com: "A brutally truthful, compassionate novel about the heart, mind, and soul of a woman who, confronted by her husband’s sudden and extreme spiritual conversion, is forced to learn 'how to be good' - whatever that means, and for better or worse… Katie Carr is a good person... sort of. For years her husband’s been selfish, sarcastic, and underemployed. But now David’s changed. He’s become a good person, too - really good. He’s found a spiritual leader. He has become kind, soft-spoken, and earnest. Katie isn’t sure if this is deeply felt conversion, a brain tumor - or David’s most brilliantly vicious manipulation yet. Because she’s finding it more and more difficult to live with David - and with herself."

In general I'd say this book was average (hence the three stars.) Not my favorite Hornby book (A Long Way Down) but also not my least favorite (Fever Pitch.) The story itself is a little quirky and interesting, but doesn't really seem to go anywhere. The resolution (or lack thereof) just falls a little short for me. I can't even say if I liked any of the characters - none of them stood out to me as favorites and I think each could have been developed a little more. All in all, not terrible but I'd pass on reading it again.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
From Amazon.com: "Like many young Americans, Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between enthusiastic carnivore and occasional vegetarian. As he became a husband, and then a father, the moral dimensions of eating became increasingly important to him. Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them. Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill. Part memoir and part investigative report, Eating Animals is a book that, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, places Jonathan Safran Foer 'at the table with our greatest philosophers.'"

To say this book is life-changing is an understatement. I don't want to over sell it, which is something I often do, but I truly wish everyone in the world would read this book. It is so much more than an argument for vegetarianism (though, be prepared to question EVERYTHING if you aren't one already.) With every turn of the page, I was further emboldened, inspired, and excited to change my eating habits, not to mention glad to already be a vegetarian! Though documentaries were what first pushed me to consider vegetarianism a few years ago, this book is far and away the most powerful tool I've encountered in educating myself on my food choices. As an exploration into tradition, history, farming practices, globalization, global and local economics, social implications, climate impact, and so much more, this book is worth its weight in gold.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Monday, November 28, 2016

Geometric Patterned Planters

Back in July when I ordered these awesome wooden planters from Target, I also picked up some geometric ceramic planters and trays. To be honest, I didn't really know what I was going to do with them (more plants? kitchen utensil storage? pen holder?) but at $5 and $4 apiece, they went into my cart with no reservations.

Does anyone else buy supplies for non-existent projects and then never use them? Guilty. I'm trying to stop because the last thing we need is clutter, but sometimes you just see something you can't pass up. Since these planters have been collecting dust for a few months, I finally decided this weekend that we were going to put them to use.

One of my favorite things about our house is that we have way more natural light than we did in our former cave apartment. Of course, you know what this means... more plants! What better to put in a cool planter, right? If you want to make your own...

Here's what you need!
- Ceramic Geometric Planter
- Ceramic Hexagon Tray (not pictured, but we put the planters on them)
- Black paint pen or Sharpie marker
- Clear spray paint or sealer (optional)

Here's what you do!
- Decide on a design and draw away! (For the planter with the concentric pentagons, I used a black paint pen. For the other planter with the connecting lines, I used a black Sharpie. Both worked great!)
- Spray your planters with a coat of clear spray paint, if you so choose. The Sharpie should hold up well to water, but the paint pen may not. We did not spray ours, so we'll be careful when watering the plants.
- Finally, fill them up with some cute succulents or cacti and display them!

Just a super quick weekend project that turned out pretty beautifully. We whipped these up in a couple hours, start to finish. The Home Depot has a surprisingly large number of succulents and other small plants for late fall, but I'm not complaining!

We're excited to get these on display in our basement - hopefully our curious kitties can keep their paws off. If you decide to decorate your own planters, be sure to send us photos or tag us on Instagram! Have a great week!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pastry Puffs

When Sarah and I first set out to make this recipe, we had "homemade vegan pop tarts" in mind. Well, anyone with eyes and a mouth can tell that these are no pop tarts. Maybe there is a perfect way to re-create the pop tart taste, texture and look, but these aren't it. However, through the process of exploring this recipe I discovered one thing: who cares? So these don't look or feel like pop tarts, who cares? They're flat out delicious, easy to make, and customizable.

print recipe

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pastry Puffs
A delicious, flaky, sweet dessert stuffed with vegan chocolate and peanut butter goodness.
  • 2 puff pastry sheets (1 box)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • Almond milk
  • Flour
1. Thaw your puff pastry sheets (about 40 minutes at room temperature.) Preheat oven to 400°.2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry sheet. Cut into three strips (where the seams are) and then cut each strip in half. You will have 6 small rectangles.3. Top one sheet with about 2 tbsp. peanut butter and 2 tbsp. chocolate chips. Cover with another sheet and use a fork to dress the edges together.4. Continue with remaining puff pastry. You will make 6 pastries total. Brush each with an almond milk wash.5. Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.6. While pastries are baking, melt remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips and 1 tbsp. almond milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir every 20 seconds until fully melted. Drizzle over pastries once they are finished baking.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 Pastries

These are best fresh out of the oven, but they're pretty decadent so you'll likely have leftovers. I'm pretty sure Sarah put her personal tastes aside when she suggested that we make these peanut butter and chocolate flavor (a Nick must) but you could easily fill these with anything! Fruit pie fillings, savory fillings like cream cheese and chives, spinach and artichoke, spinach and feta, pizza fillings (wwwhhaaaa????...) the possibilities are endless.

I hope you all enjoy this idea, and are able to make something delicious with it! Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully a few extra days off of work!

Sarah & Nick

P.S. We're taking Friday off for the holidays this week (Thanksgiving and the return of Gilmore Girls.) See you back here on Monday!