SQ Nature Break - 10 Day Instagram Challenge

It’s June in Chicago. Which means that it’s sometimes warm and sometimes cool, but it really does feel good to get outside. However, for a lot of city dwellers, those of us at SQ included, we still find ourselves cooped up inside regardless of the weather, working, starting at computers, and not really enjoying all that nature has to offer. No matter where you live, it can be a struggle to disconnect and go sit out in the yard for a few.

So, we wanted to issue a challenge and make it visual. We want you to commit to 10 days of spending at least 10 minutes outside, in a spot of your choosing, and post a pic each day on Instagram, with the hashtag #SQNatureBreak.

Sounds easy, right?

Challenges are all about commitment and accountability. We’ll be participating right along with you, but we want to know who is in.

Sign up through this link and we’ll send you an intro email the day the challenge starts with some suggestions to make it go smoothly. If you don’t use Instagram, you are still welcome to participate, you can even post the pictures in our Facebook Group!

Remember, this is about taking a break from the hustle and bustle and chilling out with the birds and the trees. Or the bees, if you are into that. Everybody needs a  little SQ Nature Break.

The challenge starts Wednesday, June 17th, sign up today!

The Bitten Word's Cover to Cover Challenge

Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise
Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise

Most of y'all probably don't know this, but The Bitten Word is one of my favorite blogs. They did a cover to cover challenge last year, in which people were assigned one dish to cook from one of six magazines, the goal being to feature every recipe in those six magazines. I really enjoyed reading everyone's experiences and swore that I would participate if they did it again. Well, this year they did, and we signed up!

Instead of cooking all the recipes from six magazines, they decided to cook all the recipes from the September issue of Bon Appétit, and instead of having one recipe per person, they assigned multiple people the same recipe. That way they didn't have to cap the number of participants, and if for some reason someone didn't get a chance to make their assigned recipe, they could be sure it would still be covered.

We got the email with our assignment on Thursday, August 29. We'd planned to cook on Labor Day, but an impromptu cookout with friends pre-empted our cooking time. The submissions were due on Friday, 9/6, and Rachel had a terrible sinus infection all week, so we weren't sure we'd actually get a chance to cook. In fact, we'd kind of given up hope of submitting it to The Bitten Word, but pledged to cook it sometime to feature it here. Well, perfectionist that I am, Thursday came and I decided that I wanted to do it, whether or not Rachel could help me.

We actually had a choice between two recipes - Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise and Striped Bass with Lime Broth - because I'd requested an alcohol-free recipe and the fish and chips is made with lager. I let them know and they offered us the option of making the fish and chips with alcohol-free lager or making the striped bass. When looking for ingredients, we saw that the bass was $29.99/lb and the cod was $10.99/lb, so that made our decision for us.

The first step is to make the mayo. I've made mayo in the food processor before, but the recipe called for whisking by hand, so I figured I'd try it. Listen. I'm right-dominant. Like, extremely right-dominant. I'd try to switch to my left hand to give my right arm a break and it was like my brain couldn't control the left side of my body. I'd attempt to whisk, oil and egg bits would fly out of the bowl, so I'd switch back to my right hand. This happened a few times before I just gave up and whisked the heck out of it with my right hand, achy, shaking forearm be damned. Let me tell you, though, this mayonnaise was delicious.

The recipe recommended we serve the fish with french fries. Since I had never fried anything in my life, Rachel had only fried doughnuts, AND Rachel was sick and unable to help very much, we cheated and bought frozen crinkle cut fries. We did fry them in the oil, which made them extra crispy. We couldn't wait to try the mayo, so we ate a LOT of fries with mayo while making the rest of the meal.

Clumpy Batter
Clumpy Batter

Rachel cut up the fish (we wish we'd done smaller pieces than we did), while I worked on the batter. Whisking the dry ingredients was fine, when it came time to add the beer, club soda, and vinegar, it turned into a lumpy mess. I never did get the batter to be all that smooth; it was a weird combination of liquidy and lumpy. Next, we seasoned the fish with salt and pepper, dredged it in the corn flour, and dipped it in the batter.

Fish, corn flour, batter
Fish, corn flour, batter

Now we're getting to the exciting part - the actual frying! First off, we used a 3.5 quart dutch oven to fry. The recipe called for "about 4 cups" of oil and says it should be 3" in a large pot. We used 4 cups of organic safflower oil and it was maybe 2" deep. I'm still confused by how those measurements were supposed to work out. We were waiting for the 2" of oil to get up to temperature (375°), when all of a sudden it shot way past 400°. Damn it. We turned off the heat and waited for it to cool off. When it did, we turned the heat back on and put the first few pieces of fish in. Rachel helped with timing how long the fish was in the oil and putting it on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet when it was done. We had a heck of a time keeping the oil temperature consistent. It always seemed to be at 350° or 400°...375° was an elusive, mysterious, unattainable thing. We had to do 5-6 batches of frying, which took longer than we expected, but the fish looked beautiful.  The frying part wasn't really difficult at all, but we never did really get the hang of dropping the fish in the oil without it splattering back at us.

Frying the fish
Frying the fish

Now for the moment of truth! We plated two pieces of fish, some fries, lemon wedges, and the mayonnaise. We topped the fish with chopped dill, but completely forgot the sea salt and the Old Bay. Whoops. Having almost completely filled up on fries and mayo, we shared the one plate and declared the meal delicious. It was a fun stretch for us to make something like this, since neither of us ever really think to order fish and chips. The mayonnaise was definitely the best part of the recipe (though when I went to use it for some leftovers the next day, it had broken! I have to figure out what went wrong).

We definitely should have halved the recipe. Not only did it make way more fish than we could possibly eat, but it made a ridiculous amount of batter. If I were to make it again for just the two of us, I would have halved the amount of fish and quartered the batter recipe. We tried to fry the extra batter into some sort of malt vinegar fritter surprise, but the batter seemed to both liquify and become lumpier as soon as it hit the oil. It was unappetizing, to say the least.

We dropped off most of the leftovers with our friend Jess later that night. Almost as soon as we got back in the car, we got this text: "OMG. That's like legit delicious restaurant quality. I just devoured half of that! YUM. Thank you! It was so amazing I stood up and ate it in the kitchen. I'm lucky you two are my friends." We couldn't have asked for a better review!