Or this post.
Because neither stand up to very close inspection.
These pants (and the next, and the next after that; it's been a week of pants around here) have all kinds of, em, idiosyncrasies. Which is sewing-speak for questionable technique. Double hems, where I forgot I'd added inches. Seams that don't seem to want to meet up. Cuffs that vary in width, front to back. And side to side. And inch to inch. Waistbands that involve a serious change in elevation, higher at the sides, lower in the center. I still can't figure out why this wants to happen. Only that it isn't me. The waistband wills it to be so.
Whatever you do, don't turn them inside out.
Not that you could.
They're moving too fast.
Because, for all their (shall we say) irregularities, they do check one simple box. The pants work. This cannot be said of all pants. Particularly pants for young-ish girls.
Why are young-ish girl pants so problematic? So fashion-forward, so function-backward? Since when did flare legs, tight on top, trippy at the bottom, make for great fun on the tumbling mat? And how exactly does that darling daisy button at the waist, awful even for strong adult fingers to fasten, aid a young kiddo bent on independence? And explain to me, EXPLAIN TO ME, how skinny jeans make sense for the preschool set??
We got fed up, Zoë and I.
We got mad. And then we made pants. (Albeit idiosyncratic pants.) Pants that are long on comfort, and big on ease of use, and entirely devoid of frippery. Pants that can be pulled on in a jif, and changed in a wink, and worn anywhere, everywhere. I'm sure she would appreciate a pocket. I've no doubt she would love a sweet detail. Button trees. Embroidered bunnies. Appliquéd roses. Alas, I am still stuck in seam allowance territory. Such is sewing when it takes three tries to simply not stitch the legs together. Such are pants when your PR is that your finished garment survives its first wash. Intact.
(It is not that she doesn't like cute; she does. She loves the unicorns and the flowers and the twinkles. Babies, big eyes, anything tiny. She loves the suite of seven she received on her third birthday from a friend who correctly assessed she was seriously wanting in the princess department. She just wants to be able to get down, on the ground, and get those princesses lined up right, you know?)
Cute, then. But accomodating cute. Cute that enables running and jumping, sweeping and climbing, hula-hooping and apple-peeling. Cute that isn't bothered by piglet-cooing or turkey-viewing, corn-grinding or pine-needle-kicking. Cute that has no comment when it's time to flop, *PLOP*, flat on the floor, to draw a turtle or build a kingdom or fill in the [free-spirited/when-the-spirit-catches-you/idea-of-the-moment] blank. Unconstrained, unencumbered, unbounded cute. Cute that takes into account play, that basic work of childhood.
I think the word is comfortable.
That's this week's work, cutting out comfortable. A job I intend to get back to, post-haste. Right after we discuss stuffed zucchini.
I know, I know, it's butternut season, and the zucchini's all but done. I intended to get to it sooner, truly, it's just that my head was bent over my Bernina. But just to be sure, I checked the market last weekend, and by golly if summer wasn't still hanging on. (I offer, as evidence, exhibit A below. Turns out tomatoes are excellent pattern paperweights.) It won't be long now, but you might squeak a batch. And if not, know I use this same formula for peppers, which are fairly reliable the year round. Know, also, I've been tweaking and testing and refining this for the better part of ten years. Like a length of Liberty, it's a real keeper; just tuck it into your stash.
If I sound like I'm procrastinating, I am; I wasn't kidding about not examining this one up close. Were it a face, this dish would be deemed one which "only a mother could love." Rugged, maybe. Rustic, possibly. A radioface, definitely. Certainly not a head-turner.
That's okay. Stuffed zucchini may not be a looker, but done right, it's one one heckuva keeper.
I want to plumb that "done right" bit a moment, because therein lies the difference between bland watery awful, and a dinner with substance and savor to spare. Zucchini is what I think of as neutral food, like tofu and chicken breasts and eggplant. Neutral is not bad; neutral is latent, waiting, potential, a wide open stage on which to dance. Too often, zucchini is stuffed because it can be, because would you LOOK at that perfect boat shape? Or because it must be (see: legendary glut). Or because everyone else is (bridge-jumpers, unite!). Might as well stuff a penny loafer, and move on to real food.
Here, however, is good reason to stuff zucchini, or pattypan, or those funny little roly-poly cannonballs: because their neutral-ness equals opportunity, sweet tender foil for a wild riot of a filling. Mild-mannered has no place, inside squash. Only bold and bright need apply.
Let's get detailed: You want aromatics, by which I mean onion, sautéed until golden and almost all gone. You want cooked grains, from last night or the freezer, slowly coated in onion-y oil. Brown rice is my favorite, for its bounce and chew, but farro or barley are also grand. White rice, only if you must. You may or may not want a bit of ground beef, but I do, for its depth, warmth and oomph. (If you do not, chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and extra cheese make for a pretty fine substitute.) You definitely want tomatoes, cooked down until jammy, plus the squash detritus left over from the hollowing. You most definitely want to add each of these when, and only when, its predecessor has been absorbed, building strata of intense, concentrated flavor. Think layering. Just like fall. Season as you go. Taste as you go. And then, remember the most important part:
Add fresh herbs. Lots of fresh herbs. Herbs by the fistful, the handful, the cup-full. Herbs enough to raise even Yotam's eyebrows. Think greens, instead of garnish, when imagining the quantity. Oodles and oodles of fresh green herbs. Parsley, basil, mint, chives, thyme. At least two. All four is fine. The main thing is you want their vim, their flash and dazzle, invigorating the whole. They cook down, and mellow, but only to a point, key to the mild shell's counterpoint.
About those shells, those original zucchini: they don't ask much, just smart salting and slow baking. Dust each scraped squash generously with salt, remembering this is the end of their seasoning, and commit to a slow, patient hour in the oven, which has the most magnificent effect on squash. Zucchini and its brethern, baked low and slow, cook, yes, but also transform. They become, in an hour, sweeter, and tender, so tender they can be eaten with a spoon. So tender the word melting comes to mind. So tender, you might even forgive, or at least fork right past, their homely countenance.
adapted over a lifetime of zucchini love
The slow building of flavors is inviolate, here. The ingredient list is not. This works just as well for peppers as zucchini, mincing the caps (instead of zucchini innards) to flesh out the filling. Similarly, I'll often swap ground lamb for the beef, and trade in two cups of fresh mint for the basil. Use feta, if you go this route. Use your imagination, and travel others.
6-8 small pattypan squash, ball squash, or 1 large baseball bat of a zucchini
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cups leftover brown rice, farro, barley, or white rice
1 pound ground beef or lamb
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup fresh thyme leaves, stripped over their stems
2 cups fresh leafy herbs, chopped (basil and parsley; mint if using lamb)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 generous cup sharp cheese (sharp cheddar, feta, manchego, gouda), shredded
Preheat oven to 350°.
Slice stem plus just enough top (1/4-1/3) to create an opening from small squash, or halve baseball bat, if using. Set tops aside. With a small strong spoon, scoop soft insides from squash, leaving a 1/2" rim on all sides. Set insides aside, with stems. If using a grand zucchini, leave a 1" rim. Settle your squash into a baking dish that fits them comfortably, but without too much room to rattle around. A 9x13" casserole works nicely. Sprinkle the teaspoon of salt evenly over all.
In a large, wide skillet, over a hottish medium, heat olive oil until shimmering. Tip in the diced onion, plus two pinches of salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 8-10 minutes.
While the onion is cooking, take your zucchini scraps, and chop-chop-chop them to a fine dice. I use the tops as well, trimmed of their actual stems. If using an enormous, elder statesman zucchini, discard the thready core and large, tough seeds, and chop the surrounding solid flesh. Set chopped squash aside.
Add ground beef or lamb, stir well to coat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and browning in spots, 10 minutes. When meat is cooked, spoon off much of the fat, leaving 2 tablespoons to finish off the filling. Add leftover rice (or other grain) to the skillet, and stir, cooking, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt, chopped zucchini flesh, and diced pepper, if using, and cook 8-12 minutes, until zucchini has released its water and cooked down and consolidated itself. Add the chopped tomato, stir to coat, and cook 10-12 minutes, until the juices have been absorbed and tomatoes have relaxed, darkening and melting a bit into the rice and veg.
Taste your filling: is it well-seasoned? There are no herbs, so it won't be bright, but it should be deeply savory and round and a touch jammy. Seasoning the filling is essential, as the shells depend on it to carry the flavor. Add enough salt and pepper to make your filling deeply more-ish, then a pinch or two more, to lend to the shells.
Add your thyme leaves, and stir to combine. Add your chopped leafy herbs (basil, parsley, mint, if using), and stir to combine. Take the skillet off the heat, taste one last time, and adjust seasoning, as needed.
Scoop filling into shells, making a nice rounded heap, and apply a good smattering of sharp cheddar to each. Add a splash of water to the pan, a few tablespoons, to give a steamy start. Any leftover filling can be tucked into a stray pepper, or baked in a small ramekin, or eaten as is. Cover baking pan with foil that is tented slightly, so as not to muddle with the cheese, and place in the preheated oven.
Bake at 350° for 45 minutes-60 minutes, until squash shells are completely soft and tender to the knife-tip. Time will vary depending on squash size; I have had baseball bats take close to 90 minutes. When squash is fully tender, remove foil from top, turn heat to 425°, and bake another 10-15 minutes, until cheese goes golden and bubbly on top. Let cool slightly, 10 minutes, and eat.
These re-heat exceptionally well. I've also been known to freeze a tray or three.
Sewing Tidbits: The lovely Meg, at Elsie Marley, is hosting her semi-annual Kids' Clothing Week Challenge this week. My pants production actually began late last week, and came about independently, to fill gaps in a certain someone's wardrobe. But given the serendipity, and a stash of gorgeous cottons from my mum, I'm taking KCWC as the kick in the pants it is to see if we can also dope out a top. We will see.
The pants are all cut from one pattern, which hails from this book, which mostly contains clothes I can't actually imagine sewing. Or wearing. But the pants pattern is exquisitely simple, and the directions, very clear, and for that, I consider it priceless