February 2016 - The Surznick Common Room

Monday, February 29, 2016

Surznick Reads: February 2016

Happy Leap Day! We hope you all had a wonderful February. This was an exciting book month for us! We launched a book club at our apartment and had so much fun sipping wine, eating snacks, and chatting books with out friends! If you're a Pittsburgh local and would like to come hang out, let us know! Here's what we read in February 2016.

Sarah's Reads!

The Dinner by Herman Koch
From Amazon.com: "It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy."

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for review. The story started off great. For the first 100 pages, there was mystery and intrigue and I loved how things were unfolding. But once I got about halfway through, it kind of lost it's luster. The single horrific act was revealed, and then I just didn't feel captivated by the rest of the story. In my opinion, there was no climax to the story, and the ending was less than satisfying. That being said, it was an easy, quick read and definitely interesting at parts. The brief chapters made it easy to pick up or put down if I had a quick five minutes to read. This is the book we'll be discussing with our friends at our next book club meeting, so I'm anxious to hear other's thoughts and how they aligned (or didn't align) with mine.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
From Amazon.com: "When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant, beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage - not by guns or bombs - but by a code so complex that if released would cripple U.S. intelligence. Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves."

I'm pretty sure I'm about to give a written review of this book that is completely identical to the review I gave to Deception Point, so I'll try to head in a different direction. I like Dan Brown. I obviously enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons, but there is just something about his writing that holds me back from really loving his books. And finally, after reading my 4th book by him, I think I've narrowed it down: he's obsessed with romance. Not just romance, but awkward, unnecessary sexual tension. These stories are really well crafted. There is a very intriguing plot, great twists, really fun mystery and suspense, and then all of a sudden, there will be a really inappropriate comment about some woman's figure, or how her shirt is wet from the steam and is now completely see-through. It's hard to explain, but these little updates about the sexual nature of all the characters feel so out of place and completely unnecessary. Overall, I enjoyed this book, but it's hard for me to get past how attracted to his own characters he is.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Surznick's Reads!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
From Amazon.com: "They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose... Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life - steady boyfriend, close family - who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life - big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel - and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy - but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living. A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common - a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?"

A friend of ours recently described a film she had seen as "the perfect movie." She said, "It wasn't the best movie I've ever seen, and it wasn't the best movie ever made, but it was essentially the perfect movie. I walked out of the theater and said to myself, 'Well, no complaints here.'" For me, that statement perfectly sums up this book. Sarah gave it a 5 star rating, and I gave it 4. It was very well written. A unique setup for an unlikely romance, which blooms slowly with unexpected road blocks along the way made for really fast, really enjoyable reading. We both read this book in a matter of a few days. It was admittedly pretty hard to put down. For me, the "perfection" of the storytelling and plot is what prevented me from giving it the full 5 stars. Something about it felt a little too typical, without actually being a typical love story. It's definitely worth the read, and we're both super excited to see the film adaptation (with Neville Longbottom in it!) This was also the first book for our book club and we loved talking about all of the different opinions on the story with our friends. We both recommend it!

Sarah's Rating: 5 Stars
Nick's Rating: 4 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Friday, February 26, 2016

Chocolate Oreo Popcorn

I've never been a huge popcorn guy. Sarah is literally popcorn obsessed, so I've been trying to meet her halfway. Generally speaking, once I start eating popcorn, I'm into it - I won't stop and I won't complain. But cover that popcorn in chocolate and Oreos? I'll be throwing elbows and pushing children over to get to the bowl. This stuff is addicting, delicious, and luckily very easy to make!

Here's what you need:
- 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (we used Enjoy Life dairy-free chips)
- 10 Oreos, crushed

Here's what you do:
- Crush Oreos by hand in a large Ziplock bag, or my personal favorite: a slap chop! Leave some large chunks. Set aside.
- Add your popcorn kernels to a large microwave safe bowl and cover with a microwave safe plate. Pop for about 5 minutes. All microwaves are different, so listen for the popping of your corn to stop.
- Carefully remove bowl from the microwave (it will be very hot!) Once cooled, separate out unpopped kernels.
- In a separate small bowl, melt chocolate chips in microwave, stirring occasionally until it's "drizzle-able." (New word. I made it up.)
- In a large bowl, combine your popcorn, melted chocolate, and crushed Oreos. Carefully stir until well coated.
- Let cool and enjoy! Or, enjoy warm! Much of this didn't even make it out of the bowl we made it in.

Obviously, Sarah and I pop our own popcorn in the microwave, but you don't need to do it this way. By all means, get your paws on some popcorn anyway you can. Do it on the stovetop, use a microwavable bag, an air popper, buy it ready to eat, whatever! Also, why stop at chocolate and Oreos? You can customize this delicious dish to be as awesome as you want - add peanuts, candy, pretzels, or anything else you can dream up!

I really hope you get a chance to make some of this on your own, and if you come up with some mind-blowing combination of toppings, be sure to share it with us!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Plaid Skirt + Collared Shirt

AKA my Cher Horowitz outfit, right? I'm a sucker for a good skirt, a collared shirt, and a cozy sweater. I picked up this plaid skirt from Old Navy at the same time as my navy blue faux suede skirt. I own very few plaid pieces and I like the pop of pattern it brings to my outfit.

I ordered this black collared tank from SheIn last year, but unfortunately found it ill-fitting around the arms. The quality is also not great, but since it's sleeveless, it's perfect for throwing under a sweater. This black sweater in particular is from H&M. It's so soft and comfortable!

These black heels stole my heart from the moment I saw them. I'm not much of a heel person, unless it's a chunky heel, a wedge, or now these beauties. They're from ASOS and I stalked their website day in day out unless my size became available. I love the pointed toe, the strap, and the low, thick heel. They're perfect for work or play (and they also come in yellow!)

Plaid Skirt\Old Navy (exact in other colors)
Collared Tank\SheIn (exact)
Black Sweater\H&M (old, similar)
Black Heels\ASOS (exact)
Bag\H&M (old, similar)
Watch\Poshmark (similar, actual DW)

So I think all I need is a flip phone, a white Jeep, and some long blonde locks and I'll have this year's Halloween costume!

xo, Sarah

Monday, February 22, 2016

Knitted Floor Pouf

I've been getting the itch to knit lately, but I thought it was getting late in the season to be making more scarves and blankets that we'd just end up packing away soon. I've seen a lot of cute floor poufs online lately and thought I'd try to knit my own!

This floor pouf was super easy to make, so if you know how to cast on, knit, and cast off, you can make one too! As this was my first floor pouf, there's definitely some things I'd do differently next time. 1) I'd make my pouf quite a bit bigger. It turned out way smaller than I expected. 2) I'd knit in the round instead of sewing the two ends together. The seam isn't very pretty and a seamless circle would have been the better way to go.

Want to make your own? Here's what you need!)
- Thick yarn (I used Bernat Baby Blanket Yarn in Vanilla)
- Size 15 circular needles
- Sewing needle with large eye
- Bean bag filler
- Trash bag

Here's what you do!
- Cast on 35 stitches.
- Knit each row until you have a rectangle about 3' long. Cast off.
- Using a sewing needle, sew the two ends of your rectangle together with spare yarn. You should now have a large "tube".
- On the bottom of your pouf, thread your needle through a loop at the end of a row. Continue to thread through every second loop, pulling your yarn tightly to bunch the bottom together. If there's a small hole, carefully sew it together and tie off your yarn.
- Your pouf should now be like a basket. Insert a trash bag filled with your bean bag filler until basket is full.
- Following the same technique as the bottom of the pouf, use your sewing needle and yarn to tighten the top together. Sew together the small hole and tie off your yarn.

Easy, right? You could completely customize this pattern to your liking - change the size, type of stitch, etc. I'm excited to try different techniques to make more floor poufs for our apartment! Think you'll make one too?

Sarah & Nick

Friday, February 19, 2016

10 Netflix Shows & Movies to Watch Now

Nick and I are no strangers to the Netflix binge. We've of course seen all of the well-known favorites like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but this post is about those lesser-known hidden gems.

Below are the ten shows and movies currently on Netflix that we're crazy about, but not many people have seen (at least in our friend circle). We hope that you'll find something in this list that piques your interest and gets you started on your Netflix binge too!

1. Peaky Blinders - Take everything you know about being cool, roll it into a human being, and you'll end up with Cillian Murphy. Now take everything that could be cool but that you forgot to add in the first time, (turn of the century Birmingham, gangs, whisky, beer, gambling, murder, riots, unions, bare knuckle boxing, mustaches, cool haircuts, etc.) add it together, and you've got Peaky Blinders.  -N

2. Nightcrawler - I remember seeing the trailer for this movie a long time ago and being really pumped to see it. Then it came out, I didn't see it (and I'm pretty sure no one else did either) and it just went away. It's creepy, scary, thrilling, and sad. Lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal gives a performance of a lifetime as a private video footage source for news outlets. The more gruesome the footage, the more news channels will pay, and Jake seems to have a particular knack for catching the good stuff. Watch it more than once - it's awesome.  -N

3. Dear Zachary - When we were first told to watch this, the person who recommended it said, "I can't tell you what it's about, you just have to watch it!" I thought that was the most frustrating and annoying thing ever. That being said, I've watched it, and I'm here to tell you, "I can't tell you what it's about, you just have to watch it."  -N

4. Forks Over Knives - In short, this documentary was the spark that made us completely change our diet and eating habits two years ago. It centers around the health benefits of adapting a whole foods, plant-based diet (no meat, no dairy, no processed foods, etc.) We found this movie truly eye-opening and life-changing. I still like to rewatch it when I feel we've been eating less healthy than we should be. Even if you're not interested in a plant-based diet, it's still 100% worth the watch.  -S

5. Fed Up - Similar to Forks Over Knives, Fed Up is another completely eye-opening documentary about the American diet. This one centers around the INSANE amount of sugar in the food we eat and how it affects our bodies. Narrated by Katie Couric, this documentary was truly fascinating and informative.  -S

6. The Last Five Years - This musical by Jason Robert Brown follows two people, Jamie and Cathy, as they tell the story of their relationship over the last five years (duh.) Jamie tells the story from beginning to end, and Cathy tells it from end to beginning. It has been my all time favorite musical since I first heard it a little over 10 years ago. I've never seen a staged performance of it, but I've listened to the original cast recording over and over and over, obsessively! I was very nervous to watch a film adaptation (starring Anna Kendrick), but it did not disappoint. I absolutely loved it and I'm so relieved to not have my favorite thing ever ruined. -N

7. A Long Way Down - I read this Nick Hornby book two years ago and LOVED it. The story centers around four strangers that meet on the night they all decide to end their lives. Instead, they make a pact to live another year and see what happens with their lives. The movie starring Toni Collette and Aaron Paul is funny, charming, sad, and overall a pretty good adaptation of the book. First read the book and then watch the movie!  -S

8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi - I love detailed accounts of anything that is considered "the best." Also, I love anything that involves sushi (which is pretty much my only guilty pleasure.) This beautiful documentary gives us an insight into the first sushi-only restaurant to be awarded a three star Michelin Guide Rating, and the master mind behind it, Jiro Ono. The real plot of the documentary kicks in when you realize that Jiro's son will one day have to take over the family business and be the next world's best sushi chef.  -N

9. Soaked in Bleach - I have an unexplainable interest in Kurt Cobain, despite being too young to know of him or Nirvana when he was alive. I don't even listen to Nirvana, but when I saw Soaked in Bleach on Netflix I knew I had to watch it. The movie centers around the private investigator Courtney Love hired to find Kurt days before his death, and tries to unravel the mystery of whether Kurt was murdered or if his death was self-inflicted. The film has a bit of a conspiracy theory vibe to it, yet the people interviewed I found to be very reputable. So it makes you wonder, what really happened?  -S

10. Don't Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 - This show ended way too early, and when you start binging it, you'll find out why. It's like the perfect combination of Kimmy Schmidt, The Mindy Project, and... Dawson's Creek? I mean James Van Der Beek plays HIMSELF - what's not to love? Oh, and it starts Krysten Ritter. If you haven't watched it yet, start now.  -S

Have you watched any of these shows before? Share some of your Netflix hidden gems in the comments below!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ASOS Under $50

ASOS Heart Flats
I've been kind of obsessing over ASOS lately. From shirts to hats and pants to flats, they have basically everything across the clothing spectrum and I pretty much want it all. This all started when I saw a photo of the cutest cat flats on Instagram and ultimately broke my shopping freeze in order to add them to my closet (and two other pairs of shoes too - see above.)

I've since shown the site to Nick, who isn't much of a shopper, but even he wants an unlimited ASOS shopping spree. That's really saying something, you guys. Below we've rounded up a some killer pieces under $50 that we wish were in our closets!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, February 15, 2016

Boozy Butterbeer

Ever since Sarah and I went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter back in July, we've had butterbeer on the brain. While watching the movies or reading the books, the thought of enjoying a nice butterbeer is always so enticing. It seems like the ultimate indulgent, slightly alcoholic drink to enjoy with friends for a relaxing evening.

The taste of the frozen butterbeer at Harry Potter World did NOT disappoint, and since then Sarah and I have been on a quest to make our own. Here's our take on a delicious boozy (and vegan!) butterbeer cocktail!

Here's what you need:
For the butterbeer:
- 12 oz. cream soda
- 1/4 tsp. rum extract
- 3/4 tsp. butter extract
- 3/4 oz (1/2 shot) butterscotch schnapps
- 1.5 oz (1 shot) spiced rum

For the whipped topping:
- 1 15 oz. can coconut milk
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp. rum extract

Here's what you do:
To make the whipped topping:
- Open your can of coconut milk. Be sure not to shake it, as you do not want to combine the solid and liquid parts. Scoop the solid milk into a mixing bowl. Save the water in the can, as you will add some back later.
- Add powdered sugar and rum extract to your milk. Mix until fluffy and combined.
- Spoon in small amounts of the leftover water at the bottom of the coconut milk can to thin out the topping to your liking.

To make the butterbeer:
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail glass of your choice.
- Top lightly with your whipped topping. The topping will float if you ladle it on gently.
- Add a fun paper straw and enjoy!

As the carbonation of the cream soda starts to interact with the coconut whipped topping, you'll notice it foam up, much like a root beer float. The more you mix it, the more it foams up! Of course, to make butterbeer without the booze, just... don't add the booze! It's still really delicious!

We never thought we'd be able to create a close replica of the delicious butterbeer we had at The Wizarding World, but this recipe definitely does it! I think next we're going to make butterbeer floats. They'll be perfect to sip in July while we're reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! (OHMYGODWECAN'TWAIT.)

Hogwarts house coasters made by our friend Shannon!

We hope you get a chance to enjoy this awesome recipe!

Sarah & Nick

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lately... (V) + A Giveaway!

Photo by Bethany Barton
It's hard to believe it's been over three months since we've shared a Lately post! It seems like 2016 is already flying by, but we've been hard at work making some changes around the blog that we're excited to share today! And don't forget to check out the Old Navy giveaway the bottom of the post!

Blog Schedule
You can find new Common Room posts here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! In November, we started implementing this consistent posting schedule and it's been a HUGE step in the right direction for us.

We want you to know when you can come to our site and expect to see new content and so far three posts per week has been working out great! In addition to weekly MWF posts, we'll still be posting our monthly Surznick Reads on the last day of each month, regardless of the day of the week.

Sunday Funday Newsletter!
One of our goals for this year was to launch an email newsletter. We have some friends and family that we know read our blog, but don't read blogs in general, so they wouldn't benefit from a blog reader like Bloglovin. For some we know it's also hard to catch our new posts through Facebook or by checking our site three times a week, so getting one weekly recap in an email is a great alternative!

Our first newsletter launched this past Sunday and will go out every Sunday morning going forward. Inside we'll share the links to our three Monday, Wednesday, Friday posts from the prior week, sneak peeks from the upcoming week, behind the scenes photos, and some bonus things that you may not see on the blog!

You can take a peek at what the first newsletter looked like here. We hope you'll sign up!

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About Us - New and Improved!
We've made some big changes to our About Us page! Check it out to learn some more about yours truly and be sure to leave a comment letting us know what you think or if there's any questions you want us to answer!

Okay, giveaway time! We've teamed up with some lovely bloggers to bring you a $200 Old Navy gift card! Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter! Good Luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway Co-hosts: To Be Bright // Tabler Party of Two // Jenns Blah Blah Blog // The Mommyhood Mentor® // Krystal's Kitsch // Sand, Sun, & Messy Buns // Pink Lemonade // Not a Trophy Wife // Prim and Propah // Mahogany Closet // Simple and Delish
Giveaway organized by: Oh My Gosh Beck!
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter daily. Giveaway ends 3/2 and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified via email.

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mini Heart Shaped Pizzas

Nick and I aren't really big Valentine's Day people. But you know what we are? BIG PIZZA PEOPLE. As evidenced by our recent Chicago Pizza Tour and just general pizza ordering habits (which are weekly.)

For Valentine's Day the past several years, we've usually just watched movies and picked up "heart shaped" pizzas from a pizza place. "Heart shaped" in quotations because more often than not they're just round with a little nip in the top. Recently I had a light bulb moment and realized "We should make our own heart shaped pizzas!" and then "AND MAKE THEM MINI!"

We're just going to eat these from the comfort of our couch while we binge watch 'The Knick', but they'd also be perfect for a make-your-own-mini-pizza party! Grab different sauces, a variety of toppings, and have a fun little party with the people you love. Sounds good, right? So you want to make them too?

Here's what you need! (Makes about 16-18 mini pizzas)
- 1 package (2.25 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 2.5 cups flour
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- Pizza toppings of your choice
- Heart shaped cookie cutter

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- In a large bowl combine yeast and warm water. Allow to bloom for five minutes.
- Add remaining dough ingredients. Combine well and let rest for five minutes.
- Turn dough onto a floured surface. The dough will be really sticky, so be liberal with extra flour.
- Knead the dough, adding flour as needed. Continue until stickiness is gone and dough can be stretched and rolled flat. Roll thin with a rolling pin.
- Use a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut small crusts. Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Top with sauce, cheese, etc. as desired.
- Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes until cheese starts to brown and bubble.

Thanks to my Galentine, Shannon, who helped me with pizza prep and as my hand model while Nick was in class last weekend! Our taste testing proved that these will most definitely be on the V-Day menu for this weekend. Think you'll make them too?

Sarah & Nick