Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Simon and the Easter Miracle by Mary Joslin

About the Book:
The gospels tell of Simon of Cyrene--"a man coming in from the country"--who was ordered to carry Jesus' cross. Over the centuries, his story has been woven into a Polish folktale. In the tradition of The Three Trees, this folk tale gives a fresh perspective on the Easter story.

When Simon the farmer brings his wares to market, little does he expect how he will be involved in the events of that very special day, nor how his items--bread, eggs, and wine--will become important symbols of Jesus' passion and resurrection, remembered throughout the ages.

About the Author:
Mary Joslin, published exclusively by Lion, is known for her children's books on belief and spirituality. Her books, which include The Story of the Cross and On That Christmas Night, have sold more than 200,000 copies.

About the Illustrator:
Anna Luraschi, has illustrated a number of books for Usborne.

Oh, how excited I was for Simon and the Easter Miracle to arrive - and oh, how disappointed I was with it. The illustrations are absolutely lovely, but the story, honestly, is terribly written.

The story starts off with Simon, a farmer of sorts, coming into the city to sell his items at the market. He is distracted by guards beating a man who is carrying a cross. (Side note: while I think it's important - when telling the Easter story to children - to make a point of telling them how Jesus was treated, I was not impressed at the presentation of his treatment, either. But, moving on...) The guards then bark at Simon for HIM to carry the man's cross. Before obliging, he asks the man (Jesus - though the story NEVER ONCE clarifies that this is who the man is) what is his crime for deserving such treatment? The man shrugs and replies "for preaching a message of peace." Really? He's being beaten and tortured and he's THAT blase about the whole situation? 'Meh - just preaching peace. No big deal.' *shrug*

At this point, we fast forward to the Crucifixion. Simon hears some people crying, others yelling, cheering, demanding Christs' death... So what does Simon do? He runs away. He runs to his food that he had come to sell at the market, and discovers that it is all ruined and that he has lost his day at the market, and any money he might have made that day.

Let me reiterate what just happened: Simon was more upset about the money he lost than the man he had just witnessed being beaten and crucified.

At this point, I'm going to let another reviewer explain what happens, because I think they hit the nail on the head:
Simon goes home, eggs break open, and doves fly around...and Simon knows doves are the symbol of peace, "And God blesses all those who work for peace." Easter is all about working for world peace? No explanation of eggs as symbols of life from the tomb? What about the spilt wine? No mention of Christ's saving blood. What about the trampled bread? No mention of the bread of life, the Body of Christ.

The other supposed miracle is "when he returned to work he noticed how quickly spring had warmed his new season's crops." I kept looking for a missed page, thinking, that's it? The other miracle is that spring comes? No mention of the symbolism of new life there either.

Exactly. No life changing realizations, no emotions, nothing. And worse? That where the book ends! Abruptly. No 'wrap-up'. Just 'spring came. The end.' When we read the last page, my 4 year old asked 'is that it?' I said it was and he asked if I'd missed a page. It felt like it, but no. He looked at me, with a very puzzled expression, said 'Oh.' and just turned around and walked away. It just wasn't a story that we could connect with at all.... which is sad.

I've only done this one other time here, and I truly hate to do it, but I don't think I'd recommend this book to anyone. The illustrations were beautiful, but the story was terrible. I think that, especially for the Easter story, there are MANY books that are far better.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, Kregel Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Paleo Chocolate Pudding

I'm a day late (sorry!), but here it is. Behold it... it is glorious.

Paleo Chocolate Pudding
1/4 c. coconut palm sugar
1/4 c. arrowroot starch
2 T. cocoa powder (If you dare, go with the 'Special Dark' kind)
pinch of salt
2 c. coconut milk (the stuff in the cans - not the cartons!)
4 egg yolks
2 T. coconut oil
1 t. vanilla extract (you could totally use coconut extract here - I bet it'd be awesome!)
3 oz. (by weight) chocolate chips (optional, but good)

1. Set a fine-mes sieve over a medium sized bowl. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, starch, cocoa, and salt. Gradually whisk in the coconut milk, then the egg yolks.

2. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened to the consistency of mayonnaise, 7-8 minutes. Continue to cook, whisking, 1 minute more. Remove from heat and push through the fine-meshed sieve using a rubber spatula to help. Add the coconut oil (and chocolate chips, if using) and stir until melted and well combined. Mix in vanilla.

3. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Before serving, gently stir to loosen it.

Serve with coconut milk 'whipped cream' and/or shredded coconut.

Yummy! Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oh... I'm a genius.

For reals. Yes, I know it's taboo to type stuff like that when you homeschool your kids. People read it and jump to conclusions. But, seriously, I've hit on a winner here.

Tonight, I saw a recipe for 'The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever' in Real Simple Magazine. It looked good, but since I seem to have that whole can't-follow-a-recipe problem, I decided to change it and just see what happened.

I subbed almost every ingredient for something else. I'm a rebel like that. Whole Milk? Nah... coconut milk sounds better. white sugar? Nope. Coconut sugar for me. Butter? Hey, let's go with this whole coconut thing and use coconut oil for that. Cornstarch? What?! THAT's not Paleo! Gotta go with the arrowroot starch. Regular cocoa powder? Not for this chocolate lovin' girl! Dutch processed special dark would be SO much better!

Seriously guys. It's unbelievable.

I'll share the recipe tomorrow (neener-neener!)

Night! (*slurp*)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Paleo Apple Crisp... yummy.

I love apple crisp. Like, so much so that it might be a little bit unnatural. I've run across tons and tons of Gluten Free and/or Paleo recipes for various crisps over the last 2 years. Most were good, a few were not, but I never really found one that was... it. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I found the blog I Cook Free COMPLETELY by accident (Side note: FANTASTIC blog - go check it out). Then I noticed that she had a Paleo Apple Crisp Recipe that looked pretty close to what I had been going for. I gathered my ingredients and went to work...

Now, here's the thing, I'm completely incapable of actually following a recipe. No matter what recipe it is, I have this bizarre urge to change something and make it my own. Which is exactly what I did here.

It. Was. Awesome.

The filling was sweet, but not too sweet. The topping wasn't spongy and weird - it actually had a bit of crunch! And that's when I decided: it must be shared.

I apologize for my lack of food photography skills.
Paleo Apple Crisp 

6 apples, sliced (peel if you want, but I never do)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 c. coconut sugar (you could also sub honey, agave, maple syrup or plain white sugar)
1 T. arrowroot starch (you can sub cornstarch if you aren't worried about being a Paleo purist)
1/4 c. liquid (apple juice, cider, water, lemon juice... whatever you have will be just fine)
1 t. vanilla
pinch of salt

1/4 c. coconut oil and/or butter, melted (I used a combo)
1/2 c. almond flour
1/4 c. milled flax seed (I prefer golden flax)
1 T. coconut flour
1/2 c. unsweetened dessicated coconut (feel free to just use shredded coconut for this)
1 T. vanilla
1 t. cinnamon
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease 8 or 9" square pan with coconut oil or butter.
3. Mix together all filling ingredients and place in pan.
4. Mix together all topping ingredients and crumble on top of filling.
5. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and top is browned.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why I Will NEVER Shop at Target Again

So, here's the thing. I don't shop much for things other than food (gluten free by necessity and paleo by choice means that my grocery budget is sometimes cringe-worthy). When I stumble on a deal on something that I actually NEED, I seriously get almost giddy.

On September 26th, I got an email from Pinching Your Pennies (do you get their daily email? You should... they rock) alerting me to a 2-for-1 deal on some jeans at Target. As I was down to ONE PAIR OF PANTS, I literally squealed out loud and hopped on over to Target's website.

I found the jeans that were advertised, and they looked great. Unfortunately I couldn't find a size chart ANYWHERE, so I had to guess which size to get based on the jeans I was wearing (remember - only pair I had at the time).

Fast forward to October 5th. My jeans arrived (yay!) and I excitedly took them out of the box only to immediately recognize that they were not going to fit (boo!). I needed the next size. I carefully folded them back up and put them back into the bag in which they had arrived, and placed both pairs of jeans, my receipt, and the packing slip back into the box. I moped out to my car and put them into my trunk so that I could go return them.

I had back to back out of town visitors, so I didn't get to Target until October 19th. I arrived and walked to the Service counter thinking the whole process would be quick and painless and I'd quickly be on my way. WRONG! Target could not locate my order - using the receipt, packing slip, my address, phone number, credit card, or order number - AND they could not find the item in their database. An hour and a half later, I was told that there was nothing that they could do and my only recourse was to mail the jeans back to Target and wait for a refund to be issued.

I spent the following 2 weeks on vacation out of state, so when I returned and life got back to normal, I decided to go online to get a return shipping label. Unfortunately, their automated process kept giving me errors and was unable to locate the order and give me a return label, so on November 11th I had to call customer service.

After spending an hour on the phone with Target's customer service, and being told that they were having a myriad computer problems that prevented them from getting their requests for return labels to go through, I finally reached a representative that apparently possessed Magic Computer Abilities and was successful in her endeavor. I received a return label by email.

I mailed the jeans back to Target on November 17th.

On December 16th, I checked my bank account for the umpteenth time and, much to my dismay, found that I had still not received a refund for the 2 pairs of jeans I had mailed back a month before. Feeling somewhat frustrated by this, I decided to call Target customer service.

I spoke to a very nice girl by the name of Rachel who informed me that it was highly unusual that the refund was taking so long, and informed me that she was going to return the entire order amount to me for my trouble, and was going to 'push it through' the system. I was told that my refund should be in my bank account in 5-10 business days. Great.

Well, what'd'ya know, on January 5th I checked my bank account (again) and there STILL was no refund. Bummer. So, I called Target customer service yet again. This time was super fun. The customer service representative informed me that they were experiencing some 'technical issues' involving my account and that for 'some reason', my refund would not go through. I was informed that on January 3rd, Target's Order Research Team had submitted a research order to look into what was causing the delay in issuing my refund. I ask to speak to someone in the Order Research department, and connected. There, they reaffirm the earlier explanation and inform me that I should hear from them by the following day (January 6th). They also offered me a $50 Target gift card (in lieu of a refund), which was laughable.

I agree to wait and see if their Order Research Team  will, in fact, call.

Surprise! They don't.

On January 13th I reluctantly decide to call Target's Customer Service AGAIN. This time is even more fun-filled than the last! I am told that the financial department 'froze my account' due to the number of failed refund attempts (2) due to 'technical issues'. This is awesome, because what this basically means is that Target can't figure out their own computer system, so they've decided to punish ME and hold MY MONEY while they try to figure it out.

I eventually have the opportunity to speak with a representative in the financial department and am informed that this 'freeze' is in fact due to the ongoing research of the Order Research Team, who elevated the requested research order on January 9th. I ask why I was never contacted, despite requesting so twice and being informed once that I would be, but they have no explanation. They again offer $50 gift card in lieu of refund. (Um, NO.) They again tell me that it shouldn't realistically be more than another week.

So, here we stand today, January 22nd, more than TWO MONTHS after I mailed the 2 pairs of jeans back to Target. I've spent over 5 hours of my life on the phone with their customer service team. I still have not been contacted by anyone from Target, I still have not received a refund. Yesterday, January 21st, I decided that my only choice was to file an official complaint with the Better Business Bureau against Target. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

I've posted a bit of my story on Target's 'fan page' on Facebook, with some feedback (though no hint at any resolution).

I'll keep everyone updated, but rest assured, you will never, ever, catch me spending my money with that company ever again.