BookTalk: Pity Poor Mrs. Popper

We’ve started reading chapter books to Baguette at bedtime. Our first was The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Neither Mr. Sandwich nor I had read that as children, and we’re continuing that with our next selection: Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

On its surface, the story is cute enough. A seasonally unemployed house painter unexpectedly takes delivery of a penguin, and hijinks ensue. There is a second penguin, and then little penguins, and more hijinks. Baguette is enjoying the story, and that’s really the point.

But as an adult, I can’t help but be struck by something. Mr. Popper does not think things through at all. He only has an income for half of the year, which means that his family has to eat beans all winter. Nevertheless, he goes into debt to buy a “chilling machine” for the penguins in the basement.

Mrs. Popper, meanwhile, doesn’t even get a personality. All she does is clean the house and talk about whether the house is clean. And they have two children, but darned if I can figure out why. Janie and Bill are barely present and don’t add to the plot or the humor.

So on a level that the writers don’t seem to acknowledge, this is the story of a woman who puts a lot of effort into making a home for her family, but has the misfortune to be married to a man who spent the entire winter’s bean money on extreme air conditioning.

Fine. It’s fine. But it’s the kind of book that’s probably charming to a child, and a source of some eye-rolling for an adult.

cover of Mr. Popper's Penguins

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Ham and Beans

I’m trying to cook more, and to use what I have. One of the things I have is several freezer bags of ham, left over from a bout of Christmas cooking. Another thing I have is a variety of dried beans, from a bout of frugal shopping without a plan. So yesterday I went through the pantry, pulled out the Crock Pot, and made a batch of ham and beans.

Friday night, I took the ham out of the freezer and sorted, rinsed, and soaked the beans overnight (after a few hours of soaking, I drained the water and continued soaking them in fresh water).

Saturday morning I moved the beans out of their bowl into the Crock Pot, added the cooked ham, poured approximately a cup of pureed tomatoes in, and added dried minced onion (Mr. Sandwich hates the texture of onion, so I try to minimize its effect as much as possible). I set the heat on high for about an hour and then turned it down to low.

After several hours, the sauce was okay, but pretty bland. Considering how few ingredients were in there, I’m surprised that this surprised me. So I added dried sage, paprika, some chipotle powder, some chili con carne, ground black pepper, and a little bit of sea salt–plus a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar. Then I continued to let it cook for a few more hours.

The end result was better than I’d dared hope–rich, flavorful, a little smoky, and a tiny bit sweet. Although the original recipe claimed to be a soup, this is definitely not that. I ate it over rice, and Mr. Sandwich ate it plain. Both of us plan to eat more.

Not bad for an experiment!

Las Fuentes

Tonight we went to Las Fuentes. The restaurant has an unusual setup; you stand in line to order and pick up your food at the counter when your number is called. There are plenty of tables for people who want to eat in; those who are getting food to go just mill around by the counter.

Our summary: great to-go packaging. Food? Not what we’d hoped.

Mr. Sandwich had one of the “gringo-style” burritos that came with more ingredients than the menu suggested. I had a festival of tacos so that I could sample several options. Of them, I recommend the taco de carne con queso, which was flavorful and not dry.

On the other hand, the beans were quite good. I’m delighted to find more than one place that serves actual refritos, complete with cheese.

I also had a tamal dulce, because I cannot resist the allure of the sweet tamale. This isn’t bad, but I’m not sure it’s what I was looking for.

I suppose we might go back, but we’d definitely order different items.

And I still want to eat tacos off a truck.