April 2016 - The Surznick Common Room

Friday, April 29, 2016

Surznick Reads: April 2016

Hi and happy Friday! We hope you had a great April. May is going to be a crazy month for us, so we're looking forward to the last (hopefully productive) weekend in April. Here's a look at what we read this month!

Sarah's Reads!

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
From Amazon.com: "During a picnic at her family’s farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking crime, a crime that challenges everything she knows about her adored mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel and her sisters are meeting at the farm to celebrate Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this is her last chance to discover the truth about that long-ago day, Laurel searches for answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. Clue by clue, she traces a secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds thrown together in war-torn London - Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy - whose lives are forever after entwined. A gripping story of deception and passion, The Secret Keeper will keep you enthralled to the last page."

I've had less than great experiences with Kate Morton in the past and was hoping that this book would redeem her for me, but truth be told, it didn't. I actually think I could just copy my review of The Distant Hours from two years ago and use it again here. Once again, this was a book club selection that I didn't finish in time because I was just so not into this story. It started off way too slowly and skipped back and forth between the 1940's and present day, and between multiple characters. The story doesn't really get interesting until about page 300, which is only about 60% of the way through the book. It's a big investment for not much return. I will say that I particularly enjoyed the last 50 pages, as there was one final twist that I didn't see coming. Overall though, the book was too long and not interesting enough to keep me entertained. I think my time with Kate Morton has finally come to an end for good.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Spritz: Italy's Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes by Talia Baiocchi & Leslie Pariseau
From Amazon.com: "From Milan to Los Angeles, Venice to New York, the spritz - Italy’s bitter and bubbly aperitivo cocktail - has become synonymous with a leisurely, convivial golden hour. But the spritz is more than just an early evening cocktail - it’s a style of drinking. In Spritz, Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau trace the drink’s origins to ancient Rome, uncover its unlikely history and culture, explore the evolution of aperitivo throughout Northern Italy, and document the spritz’s revival around the world. From regional classics to modern variations, Spritz includes dozens of recipes from some of America’s most lauded bartenders, a guide to building a spritz bar, and a collection of food recipes for classic Italian snacks to pair alongside."

First things first, the photos in this book are beautiful. I want to both drink and cut out and frame every one of them. This is our first cocktail "cookbook" and I'm so excited to add it to our collection. The book begins with a little history about the spritz cocktail - what it is, when you drink it, how it's evolved over time, etc. Then we get to my favorite part - the recipes. We made the white spritz earlier this month. It was super delicious and easy to make (i.e. had ingredients that I could read.) Our only complaint about the book is that we weren't familiar with ingredients in many of the cocktails. Maybe it's just us and we're not very worldly with our alcohol, but it's not a deal breaker. Spritz is an excellent book to have for both functionality and fashion. I might keep it on our coffee table just to flip through the photos. We received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for review.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Nick'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."

Both of my books this month were for our at-home book club, and I suppose you could lump both of them into some sort of crime thriller category. While reading The Dinner, I really enjoyed it. I liked the character development, and the plot in general. I wish I would have written my review right after reading it, because now that some time has passed, my thoughts on it are cooling a bit. Turns out the story and the characters really didn't stay with me all that much. It's a fun read, but nothing to go crazy over.

My Rating: 3 Stars

(You can read Sarah's review of The Dinner here.)

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
From Amazon.com: "More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss - a devastating wound that's cruelly ripped open when Claire's husband is killed. The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago... and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it."

SO GOOD. It's hard for me to say much else, but I'll try: I absolutely loved this book, I could not put it down. It was exciting, terrifying, disturbing, mysterious, emotional - everything. How'd I do? When it comes to crime thrillers, this is my new numero uno. Read this book.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Homemade Breakfast Granola

Sarah and I eat the same breakfast every single morning, Monday through Friday. I absolutely love it. We make these bomb.com fruit/spinach/peanut smoothies that are just amazing. I never really thought that throughout the week, I'd ever desire for any variation on the norm. Well, turns out I was wrong. I now have a new craving when I wake up in the morning - THIS:

(Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker)
Here's what you need:
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 tbsp. flax meal
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. raw sugar or coconut sugar
- 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped nuts (we used almonds)

- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1/3 cup and 1 tbsp. agave nectar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract

- Almond milk
- Fresh or dried fruits for topping

Here's what you do:
- Preheat oven to 350°
- In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (except for any fruit you may use for topping).
- In a small saucepan, heat the coconut oil, agave, and vanilla extract until melted and combined.
- Pour the warm liquid into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until well coated.
- Lay the granola out on 2 foil-lined cookie sheets. It should be spread thin, so use a third tray if you need more space.
- Bake in the oven about 20 minutes. Stir around the midway point to prevent burning around edges or any thinner spots you may have on your pan.
- Remove from oven and let cook on the trays. Even if it seems a bit moist when you take it out of the oven, it will dry and harden as it cools.
- Store in an air-tight container.
- Top with almond milk, fresh or dried fruits, and enjoy!

This is not the first time I've made granola based off of Minimalist Baker's recipes, and it definitely won't be my last. At first, it seems like a lot of ingredients, but as two people that keep only vegan foods in our home, we luckily had everything on hand. We made a double batch to last us a bit longer than a single would, and I'm already wishing I would have made a triple batch.

Sarah & Nick

Monday, April 25, 2016

DIY Paint Chip Art

Paint chips are the ultimate craft supply - they're versatile, come in tons of colors, and they're free! A couple years ago paint chip crafts were all the rage, but it's been awhile since I've seen them on blogs. I myself haven't made anything with paint chips in awhile either, but this past weekend I wanted to crank out some quick wall art and colorful paint chips were just what I needed!

I picked up these fruit and veggie paintings from a Craigslist "Free Curb Alert" up the street last year. They were the perfect candidate for a makeover. You could use canvas, thrifted art, shoebox lids, you name it!

Here's what you need!
- Frames or canvas of your choice
- Spray paint (optional)
- Paint chips
- Scissors
- Mod Podge (we prefer matte finish)
- Paint brush
- Xacto knife

Here's what you do!
- If desired, spray paint your frames/canvas. We spray painted both the frames and the inserts so we could have a white background to work with. We did two coats, allowing the paint to fully dry in between.
- Meanwhile, cut your paint chips into small squares. I wanted mine to be slightly different in size and imperfect. My inspiration was this image I've had pinned for years (p.s. follow me!)
- Arrange your squares in a pattern you like and then glue them down with your Mod Podge. The edges may curl a bit, so once all your pieces are glued, flip your art over onto a sheet of wax paper and weigh it down with heavy books. Let it press for an hour.
- Use an Xacto knife to trim the paint chips that hang over the edge of the canvas.
- Add a coat of Mod Podge onto the top of your art. Allow to fully dry and again flip your art over onto a sheet of wax paper and weigh it down with heavy books. Let it press for an hour.
- Insert your finished art into your frame and display it!

Have you created any paint chip crafts? What are your favorites?

Sarah & Nick

Friday, April 22, 2016

ASOS Shoes Under $50

exact sold out
A couple months ago we rounded up the best guy and gal clothes from ASOS, all for under $50. I didn't include any shoes in that roundup because it would probably quadruple the size of the post. ASOS IS SO GOOD AT SHOES. This year alone I've bought three pairs and I'm hooked.

exact sold out
This is the time of year when I always want to get new shoes - sandals, flats, boots, you name it. I'm still kind of on a spending freeze so I'll just have to live vicariously through you all. My favorite shoes under $50 are linked below! (Don't forget the second page!)
xo, Sarah

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stovetop Vegan Cornbread

Just the other night, some friends and I were discussing the magical food that is cornbread. During college, Sarah and I were the biggest fans of the IUP dining hall's cornbread. Available at every meal, rich, sticky, savory, and amazing. Growing up, I didn't often have cornbread, but when I did it was a real treat. Warmed with a pad of butter and drizzled with some maple syrup? Money.

One of the best gifts for Sarah's birthday last year was the This Ain't No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook from our friends Andy and Amanda. It's full of awesome recipes, great playlists, hilarious photos, and more. I was flipping through it the other night and saw this really easy recipe for cornbread I just had to try. And for once, we had every ingredient on hand! It was destiny.

Here's what you need:
- 1 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 tsp. agave or maple syrup
- 1/2 cup corn
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 tsp. oil
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 1/4 cup almond or soy milk

Here's what you do:
- Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.
- Pour into a greased cast iron skillet.
- Cover and cook over medium heat 10-20 minutes.

The recipe in the book calls for all the batter to be in one large skillet and cook for 20 minutes. I used a small skillet and mine only needed to cook about 12-15 minutes. Just be sure to frequently poke it with a toothpick. The bottoms can very easily burn, so try to elevate the pan away from the flame. I used 2 of my stove top burner cages stacked on top of one another so the flames weren't touching directly to the pan.

I really enjoyed this cornbread. I ate it right off the stove with some butter and syrup, just like when I was a kid. It is moist and delicious. The whole kernels of corn add great texture, and the very subtle hint from the chili powder is just the right amount!

Give it a try, and be sure to check out the Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lately... (VI)

Hi there. It's been a couple months since we shared a lately post, so we thought we'd do that today! This past month has felt like kind of a whirlwind. It may be cliche to say that time feels like it moves faster the older you get, but it's so true. Below is a short recap of life lately (I thought we'd try a new format too!)

Eating: Saturday night we went to Dive Bar in Lawrenceville for a friend's birthday. It's a restaurant we've never tried before and our food was delicious. We've also been frequenting Kelly's in East Liberty. I think we're officially obsessed with their tofu bites. At home we recently made a batch of our pasta fagioli that's been serving as leftovers for a few days - so easy to make and so good! I'm still thinking about starting a 30 day salad challenge...

Drinking: Since first making the white spritz cocktail we shared last week, we've made them a few more times for a refreshing drink to sip! We're also loving the warmer weather so we can enjoy happy hour in the sun.

Watching: Gilmore Girls, almost constantly. With the revival on it's way, we couldn't take all of the GG talk and not start rewatching the series again. We just started season 3 and we hope to be finished before the revival comes out (whenever that may be!)

Listening: We've been to a few different concerts this past month: Dr. Dog, The Front Bottoms, and Ra Ra Riot. On the radar we have Say Anything and The Avett Brothers coming up! We're so happy outdoor concert season is finally here.

Reading: The Secret Keeper (for Sarah) and Pretty Girls (for Nick.) We'll report back on these in our monthly reads posts!

Free-timing: Spending as much time with friends as possible. This past weekend we celebrated a friend's birthday, hosted a friend that was stopping through on tour, I grabbed coffee with a new friend, and had a phone date with my best friend that lives 4,000 miles away. (This section makes me the happiest.)

Other than all that we've been working hard and getting ready for our next big adventure! Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Sarah & Nick

Friday, April 15, 2016

Cozy Knit Sweater

The most recent addition to my closet is also the piece I've been reaching for 3+ times a week. This oversize knit sweater from Forever 21 was an impulse buy that's turning out to be incredibly valuable. I wear it almost exclusively on the weekends and also threw it on for a concert earlier this week, when we snapped these photos.

The color has a tiny bit of a blush tone to it, so I thought buying it was justified, as my other go-to oversize sweater is cream. Luckily the color is still pretty neutral so I can pair with black jeans, as seen here, dark blue jeans (like in this Instagram photo), or any of my other wear-to-work pants.

This upcoming weekend is supposed to be 70 degrees and gorgeous, but I plan on keeping this sweater in my rotation for cooler spring and summer nights. Forever 21 has so many sweaters on sale right now - see some of my favorites below.

Knit Sweater \ Forever 21 (exact)
Black Jeggings \ Charlotte Russe (exact - last seen here)
Leopard Loafers \ Vince Camuto via Saks Off Fifth (exact sold out, similar - last seen here)
Daniel Wellington-inspired Watch \ Poshmark (similar, actual DW)

xo, Sarah

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

30 Day Yoga Challenge

Until March 1, 2016 I had never done yoga in my life (pilates yes, yoga no.) It's incredibly surprisingly even to me because I feel like yoga is EVERYWHERE. There are yoga studios in practically every neighborhood in the city and even our favorite local breweries have "Beer + Yoga" classes on the weekends... but I've just never tried it myself.

Last month I read a blog post from Holl & Lane assistant editor, Kimiko, about her experience trying Yoga with Adriene's "30 Days of Yoga" and felt really inspired to give it a try. That very day, Nick and I embarked on our own 30 day yoga challenge and *spoiler alert* we loved it.

I'll be the first to admit that we aren't very active people. I was a little scared to commit to doing yoga for 30 consecutive days (given our exercise track record) but we did it. For 30 days in a row, regardless of whether we were out of town, got home late from a concert, or even came home tipsy from happy hour... we did yoga. We just wanted to briefly share our experience in hopes that maybe we'll inspire you to try yoga too.

Nick: My favorite aspect of doing yoga was the sense of "me time." I loved knowing that for about 30 minutes, every single day (morning or evening) I was allowed to just do nothing. To have silence from my busy schedule and work and everything else swimming around in my head. I'm the type of person that really values mental rest over physical rest. It's probably why I don't mind doing dishes or cleaning much. I can handle being active as long as it means I don't need to be thinking about anything or concentrating too hard. I loved the yoga practices each day. They were quiet, calm, peaceful. No cell phones, no computers. At the end of each practice, I somehow typically felt "cleaner." Almost as though I had been emptied out of a great deal of stress. Doing the practice early in the mornings was a fantastic way to start my day. I'd roll out of bed reluctantly each day, and by the end of our practice, I would always be so grateful I had allowed that time for myself.

Sarah: As Nick mentioned above, we did early-morning yoga (like 5:30 AM on weekdays.) Though I hated getting out of bed, I felt more awake, refreshed, and ready to start my day after our yoga practice. One of my favorite things about this program was that Adriene created a different video for each day. I find that exercise can get so stale, but I'm also not creative enough to come up with my own fitness routine. Every morning I just selected that day's corresponding video and got started. It was great. Over the span of 30 days I saw improvements in my posture, stamina, and overall mindset towards the practice. The idea that we were doing it as a "challenge" really kept me motivated as well. Every morning we were one day closer to completing the 30-day challenge, so I absolutely refused to miss a day. I'm seriously considering starting a "30 Day Salad Challenge."

Overall, we completely loved this program and we're excited to continue our yoga journey with Adriene's YouTube videos. She has an insanely impressive library of content that we could watch a different video every day and probably never have to repeat.

What are your thoughts on yoga - love/hate? Have you tried any of Adriene's videos?

Sarah & Nick

Monday, April 11, 2016

White Spritz Cocktail

When it comes to libations, drinking, relaxing, and the related, I'm a beer guy. However, with spring fast approaching (maybe? I dunno, it snowed all weekend) we figured it was time to try our hand at some fun, light, cocktails.

The book Spritz by Talia Baiocchi & Leslie Pariseau is bursting with beautiful photography, delicious, intriguing drinks, and incredible design. I love looking at this book as much as I love trying the drink recipes. The book tells us that a "spritz" by nature needs to be effervescent, bubbly, and carbonated. What a better way to coax spring along than with a classic staple, the White Spritz.

Here's what you need:
- 4 oz. dry white wine (we used Pinot Grigio)
- 2 oz. soda water (seltzer water)
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Lemon for garnish

Here's what you do:
- In a small sauce pan, add the lemon juice and sugar. Heat and stir until combined. Remove from heat and let cool 30 minutes. This is now "lemon syrup" to be used later! You should have enough to make two cocktails.
- Over ice in a wine glass, combine wine, soda water, and 1.5 oz. (one shot) lemon syrup.
- Garnish with lemon wedge or other citrus.

So... that's it. Did I need to put step by step instructions? Maybe, maybe not. The beauty of this light, refreshing, airy cocktail is that it is so incredibly simple to make!

Perfect for summer outside. Or... perfect for wishing it was summer outside!

Sarah & Nick