7 Minutes of Beauty & Positivity (+Katherine Hepburn’s Chocolate Brownies)

2017 hasn’t been the best year. Every morning, I brace myself upon waking up as I open my news feed or social media, mentally preparing myself for what terrible news inevitably lies ahead. Terrorist bombings, mass shooting, catastrophic natural disaster following upon natural disaster, heightened political tensions (including crazy dictators threatening nuclear confrontation), domestic strife, and so, so much anger, vitriol, and toxicity, seemingly everywhere you look, often against one’s own fellow citizens. No country is immune.

Some days — like this morning — it gets to me more than others. Now more than usual. What most of you don’t know is that my beloved mother almost died 3 weeks ago but, even apart from the difficulty of that utterly unexpected, painful event and its continued aftermath, the world news is not exactly… joyous. And it’s getting to me. Some days, the news is so bad that I’m desperate to find a bit of beauty, light, and sweetness — even if it’s merely for a few minutes — in order to alleviate the steady stream of terrible news about terrorist attacks, potential genocidal massacres, catastrophic devastation in Puerto Rico [or insert the name of any number of other disasters], thousands dying in the recent South Asian floods, “active shooters” killing dozens of people innocently enjoying a music concert, and the current, corrosive socio-political divisions within my country and elsewhere.

So I wanted to take a moment to highlight some beautiful, positive, or happy things, for me even more than for you, to focus on a bit of beauty in the midst of 2017’s grimness. It will be primarily a series of random nature or animal photos — from baby elephants to big cats, camels, Hairy German princeling puppies, and so much more — that made me smile, distracted me with beauty, or simply cheered me up. There will also be a few travel photos I’ve taken, things in a completely different vein in order to round out the temporal escape. I’ll end it with a link to Katherine Hepburn’s famous recipe for the gooiest brownies imaginable, because we all need a bit of sweetness and chocolate in our lives.

I figure it should take you roughly 4 minutes, at the very most, to rapidly scroll through the photos on this post and an additional 3 minutes to read about Katherine Hepburn’s famous chocolate brownies. Hopefully, those 7 minutes will brighten your day a little before you, too, face the news ahead.

Gremlin or giraffe?

You don’t have to be a patrician, imperious, majestic German Prince or K9 Officer to be special (although it helps). Adorableness comes in all shapes and sizes:

Me, most mornings upon reading the news:

Me, and how I feel upon hearing about a fragrance that sounds good:

Me. and what I end up looking like after testing 8 or 9 out of every 10 (non-artisan) samples that I’m sent or that I buy:

Me, when I end up discovering a (rare) fragrance that I actually love:

On the Baby Animal Cuteness Scale (“BACS”)(my invention), baby elephants must surely rank in the top 10. One of my all-time favourite elephant photos might be this one, and it might be the most perfect photographic representation of my childhood mental image of baby “Dumbo” that I’ve ever seen:

Look at that face!

But there are so many wonderful baby elephant photos out there. This first one might possibly photoshopped but, even if it is, it still makes me smile:

National Geographic has some utterly exquisite, brilliant, and technically spellbinding photos, especially those submitted for their annual national photo contest:

A grey heron, preening upside down. Photo: Ahmad Al Essa.

Photo: Jamie McArthur

Photo: Sam Kurful

Photo: Hymakar Valluri

I admire crazy perfectionism and dedication to one’s craft perhaps more than anything else in the world. Photographer Alan McFadyen wanted to capture the perfect shot of a diving kingfisher in honour of his grandfather, but it took him six years, more than 4,200 hours, and… wait for it… more than 720,000 shots before he managed to capture this remarkable, award-winning photograph of a kingfisher diving without even a splash. The Bored Panda has a tiny bit of the story if you want to read more (as well as more photos in the series), but here’s the image that made me do a double-take for its cleanness and its singular precision :

The effort involved in that shot is astonishing, but this next photo just makes me laugh. Hasan Baglar captured two preying mantis at Nicosia, Cyprus, and they look a lot like flamenco dancers, wearing beautifully detailed costumes, celebrating while walking a tightrope, and maybe drunk on Ouzo before having deadly, cannibalistic sex?

Photo: Hasan Baglar. Source: National Geographic & Gizmondo.

Such a remarkable shot! All of them are. One has to admire the photographer as much as his subject(s), and in some cases more so.

Personal travel photos can never measure up to such professional brilliance, but I wanted to change subjects, move away from nature and animals, and to share some cool, interesting, or foodie photos that I’ve taken in the past in various places. After all, not all of you may be interested in dancing mantis, pre-sex, or majestic tigers:

Spiral staircase at the Vatican Museum. Photo: my own.

Dinosaur, gigantic bug, animal, or cockroach? A sculpture at a Copenhagen museum. Photo: my own.

Malmo, Sweden, a marching band sculpture. Photo: my own.

Sweden. Photo: my own.

Danish crown jewels. Photo: my own.

Danish crown jewels. Photo: my own.

Danish crown jewels. Photo: my own.

Moslem Street, Xi’an, China:

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

The white things are dried, sugared persimmons. To the right are walnuts which are plentiful in the area. Behind the basket of walnuts are a gazillion different kinds of dates. Further to the back on the left are all kinds of pumpkin, sunflower and watermelon seeds. Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Beijing’s legendary Night Market and its… er… goodies:

Beijing night market vendors. Photo: my own.

Some bug delicacy on skewers that just made me shudder. Photo: my own.

Ox intestines, I think? Chopped up for sautéeing. Photo: my own.

Busy stalls at 10 p.m. at night. Photo: my own.

One of the most beautiful parts of China for me was the Southern part, specifically the Guilin and Yangshuo regions, sometimes called “China’s Paradise.” After visiting, I actually wouldn’t disagree. It’s beautiful. After going down the famous Li River, seeing all the Karsts, we spent several days exploring the south. One of the most tourist-y, hyped things on the agenda was Guilin’s ancient Reed Flute Cave, but I loved it. Lit up by colourful lights, the large cave complex was truly spectacular. It’s supposedly over a 180 million years old, with stalactites, stalagmites, and a small colony of turtles that several local tour guides told me were (allegedly) a thousand years old. They can’t be, no matter how wizen and toothless, but I enjoyed the tale and the fantasy.

Reed Flute Cave. Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Reed Flute Cave. Photo: my own.

Reed Flute Cave. Photo: my own.

Stalactites or stalagmites, I always forget which is which when looking at the photos. Photo: my own.

Close-up of one of the allegedly “1,000-year old” turtles that populates the Reed Flute Cave. Photo: my own.

Okay, I grant you, the turtle looks a lot like an ancient pig in that photo, but you should have seen his equally wizen wife, eating her lettuce lunch with mangled green smears over her one remaining tooth. (I would show it to you, but I lost almost 40,000 photos when my external hard drive went up in smoke some years back. Most of my China photos were on it. But trust me, the Guilin turtle wife was quite something to behold in her decrepitude. She may not have been 1,000 years old, but she was definitely old.)

Katherine Hepburn via IMdB.

Geriatric turtles may be an amusing momentary distraction, but they hardly measure up to chocolate or baked chocolate treats as an effective form of escapist joy. To that end, I present to you the famously gooey, rich, delectable brownie recipe by Hollywood screen icon, Katherine Hepburn. I’ve never baked it myself, because I have a tragic black thumb when it comes to baking (as opposed to cooking), but friends have made it, it’s delectably gooey (I hate to use the loathed M-word, “m–st,” but it really is) and it’s also reportedly extremely simple to make. The recipe actually comes with a side story (unrelated to Hepburn) regarding brownies, infidelity, and NY Times‘ very favourite comment ever left. It’s a tale originating with an Air Force wife sharing a movie star’s brownie recipe and resulting in a supposedly gorgeous Italian woman “stealing” a husband, which is all perfectly fine, dandy, and interesting (if one leaves aside how the man is freed from all responsibility for his role in this account), but the main thing is the chocolate, the recipe, and the famous gooey excess. Here is Katherine Hepburn’s legendary recipe, according to the original NYT Cooking Section post:

    ½ cup cocoa
    ½ cup butter (1 stick)
    2 eggs
    1 cup sugar
    ¼ cup flour
    1 cup chopped or broken-up walnuts or pecans
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    Pinch of salt
    Heat oven to 325 degrees.
    Melt butter in saucepan with cocoa and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
    In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, nuts and salt. Add to the cocoa-butter mixture. Stir until just combined.
    Pour into a greased 8 x 8-inch-square pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Do not overbake; the brownies should be gooey. Let cool, then cut into bars.

Katherine Hepburn’s brownies via Epicurious and Ruth Reichl. (Direct link to website and additional Reichl/Katherine Hepburn recipe source embedded within.)

According to NPR (and an article with the ridiculously click-bait title of “Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies: A Recipe For Home-Wrecking?“), the following is the slightly tweaked version made by the NY Times commentator, Sydne Newberry, whose husband was “stolen”:

Sydne Newberry’s Spin On Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies
* This recipe is based on Katharine Hepburn’s original, with modifications made by Newberry.

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup broken up walnut or pecan pieces (for better flavor, toast the nuts at 350 F for about 5 minutes)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 325F.
Grease an 8-inch-square pan. (Line it with aluminum foil, overhanging on all sides.)
Melt butter in a saucepan with cocoa and stir until smooth.
Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
Whisk in eggs, one at a time.
Stir in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, nuts and salt.
Add to the cocoa-butter mixture. Stir until just combined.
Pour into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes. (Do not overbake: Center should still be a little gooey.)
Let cool completely before cutting into squares. If foil lining is used, lift from pan and cut into 16 squares on a cutting board.

When even chocolate is not enough to lift your spirits in the face of stressful news, I hope you can curl up next to the ones you love:

May your week be filled with beauty, chocolate, love, and positivity.

44 thoughts on “7 Minutes of Beauty & Positivity (+Katherine Hepburn’s Chocolate Brownies)

  1. it is so hard these days, my eyes seem to glaze over daily at the tragedy and vitriol in the world today. Ugh.
    Thank you for the great photos, the elephant under the waterfall is actually an animatronic figure from the “Jungle Cruise” ride at Disneyland, it makes me smile every time I see it!

    Love those brownies, our local bakery makes them as a staple, so damned good, and oddly better when she makes the gluten-free version. Go figure! Her husband trains police dogs for the city of Seattle, and I’m forwarding two of those shots to her. xoxo

    • 2017 really does seem harder than prior years, doesn’t it? I didn’t think 2016 was exactly a love fest of joyous positivity and unanimity, and 2015 had more than its share of trials, tribulations, and Ebola but, 2017… egads. It just feels… tougher.

      I know one of the elephant/water photos is from Disneyland, but it still makes me smile and captures the joyful, innocent essence of the babies. As for the Katherine Hepburn brownies, the gluten version is actually better??! Wow. Those must be some brownies! You lucky devil.

      Of course, the main thing that made me sit up with your comment was your baker friend’s husband training K9 Cops. Now **HE** really is a lucky devil in my eyes. They’re probably all Mals, though. (Sniff)(There is a massive rivalry between Mal-GSD people, even if the two are cousins, or perhaps *because* the two are cousins while having totally different mental approaches to things.) If you ever hear back from him/her regarding the GSD photos that you forwarded, let me know, *especially* if he falls on the GSD side of the equation. 😛 😀 😉

      • one of the dogs (Jaeger) just retired, and is pictured in a kids book called “Paws Of Courage”, really a sweet pup.

        for the KH gluten-free brownies you replace the flour with rice flour and tapioca 2-1 (rice to tap) I like them better b/c the rice flour is really “silky” and makes a great texture in the brownie. I’m not gluten free, in any way, shape, or form, but these have an amazing flavor!! xoxo

  2. My dear – Thank you for making me smile. The world can be such an ugly place and any glimmer of light is always welcomed. So sorry to hear about your mother. I hope that she’s doing well. And to all, give you loved ones a big hug every day if you can. It takes so little, but it can mean the world. xoxoxox

    • Darling, as one of the kindest, most positive, gentlest men (and gentlemen) I know, I’m glad I could make you smile. I fear that even tiny, momentary glimmers of light are all too easily extinguished in the miasma of horrors we find ourselves in today, but sometimes, it’s worth just trying. Even a few minutes is better than nothing. Monday was just SUCH an awful morning in terms of the news. Tuesday, as the Las Vegas massacre news spread even further, became even more appalling to read, I sometimes felt as though I was drowning under one horrifying story after another after another after ANOTHER. You’re right, the people we love are the best escape and refuge of them all. I hope you curl up with your handsome husband just like those adorable mice in the last photo. (I certainly think of you two that way. LOL 😉 ) xoxo

  3. Okay, I could have gone all day without seeing the bug & guts pictures, but the rest were great. I am definitely going to try those brownies!

    • Hahaha, that’s how I felt upon actually SEEING the bug and guts in person, Tara. 😀 Supposedly, honey-glazed larva are absolutely “delicious” (ahem) and a delicacy, but I think I shall leave them for Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, or the like. Skewered scorpions and centipedes, most definitely. Call me a cowardly plebeian but brownies are much more my speed. So, did you try the recipe yet and, if so, how was it?

  4. So sorry to hear about your mother. I hope she will feel better soon.
    As for the overload of cute pics, love them all!!! And you can never go wrong with brownies. Thank you for the uplifting content. Much appreciated. 🙂

    • Thank you, dear Jiji. My mother is having a very, very difficult recovery, but at least she’s alive. Somehow, she left the hospital with a spine broken in two places (!!!), broken ribs, a broken wrist, and two broken fingers. As you can imagine, having a fractured spine is not the easiest of things, let alone it happening out of the blue following unrelated brain seizures.

      As for brownies, you’re right, one can never go wrong. Same with baby animals! 😀 Are you a baker, by the way? (I would love to be, but everything ends up as shriveled brownness when I try. 😀 haha)

      • This is a very late reply, sorry. I was on holiday in Bretagne and kind of neglected the blogs and socials for almost a week.

        sounds like your mother had a very rough time (and you and your family too) how awful 🙁 I wish you all and especially your mother of course all the best and luck recovering.

        No i am certainly not a baker, and not a great cook either. But I love food and I am a fan of fine dining.

    • I’m glad. We all need more sweetness and chocolate in this world. I hope the brownies turned out well and that you liked them. 🙂

    • Thank you, my dear. I will convey your kind words to my mother, along with those of other commentators. I know it will completely embarrass her as she is so old-school and hates fuss, but, hey, it makes me feel better and I think it’s lovely! 😀 And I’m glad you enjoyed the photos as well.

  5. Thanks for putting a lovely bit of positivity into the world today. It’s much needed.

    • You’re very welcome, Shiela. 🙂 I’m just happy it could be a nice break because, you’re right, we all need a small break from the current news. Some days, it’s simply overwhelming.

    • It was my pleasure. And I did it as much for me as for everyone else. Sometimes, the news is just too, too much. But I’m glad it made some other people feel better as well.

  6. Thank you so much. Loved them all, sorry to hear you lost so many more. Somewhere in infinity’s lost and found someone is happy to see them

    • Dora, first, please let me welcome you to the blog. Second, thank you for such a beautiful, poetic, and philosophical interpretation of my lost photos. I wince and shudder every time I think about them, but your theory is so beautiful, it actually makes me feel a bit better. Thank you for that. I shall think of them floating in infinity and deep space, giving someone a bit of joy or travel escapism. Such a lovely, lovely way of thinking about things. I’m really delighted to have you joining us here on the site. 🙂

    • Ha, the dancing frog is one of my personal favourites, too! He’s doing such a jig, it never fails to make me smile.

  7. This is the way to remember which are stalactites and which are stalagmites: When the MITES GO UP, the TIGHTS GO DOWN. Thanks for upping the positivity factor in my day.

    • Oh, that is a perfect mnemonic device! “TIGHTS go down….” — that’s such an easy summation. Thank you, Scent Spirit!

  8. What a beautiful, funny, comforting selection of life-affirming photos. I will make those brownies! Your post today is just what I needed and I wish the whole world could read it and feel uplifted too!

    • Darling, I hope you know that you and the spirit of MFKD were definitely incorporated here. BTW, if you had the chance to make the brownies, how were they?

  9. Those big cats! Thank you for that and the other inspiring and comforting sights. I hope your mother makes a full recovery and all the best to you.

    • Joojeh, merci. (But almost everything is a better alternative than reading the news, whether in paper or digital form. 😉 😛 I kid, but only slightly and always in between kisses on that handsome cheek.)

  10. Oh Kafka! I woke up feeling all depressed and so glad I clicked on your link right away – truly made my day – I loved looking at all your travel pics and hope to visit those places some day. And those baby elephants!!! My God how precious are they!!! Its beautiful to see their expressions of pure joy! I am truly sorry to hear about your mother – I hope she is getting better and recovers fully. Sending you good wishes!

    • 1023highlandlove, I know just how you feel upon waking up some mornings. It’s been a pretty awful year in terms of the news and global events, hasn’t it? Some days the rapid series of terrible events, one after another after another after ANOTHER, just becomes like this massive weight on my chest and looking at baby animals is one of the few things that makes me smile or lifts my spirits. I’m glad I could provide a temporary respite and counter-balance, even if it was just for a few moments. Even a few minutes is better than nothing. Long live baby elephants! (And German Shepherd puppies, of course. lol 😉 )

  11. Hi, I have been reading your blog for a long while but had never made any comments.
    Like you, I have been thinking about these issues lately. So much bad news, tragedies… difficult to find beauty. Your post made my day. I have sent it to all my beloved ones.

    Hope your mom is better, so difficult to not have them around. I still have mine and cherish each day. I am also a mom and find much pleasure in having my little ones. I am certain it is the most beautiful phase in my life.

    • Gabriela, first, welcome to the blog! It always makes me happy when a long-time lurker finally decides to come out of the shadows and to post. Really, it means a lot. (And I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to welcome you with a direct reply, but it’s been one of those weird, difficult weeks, like much of the last 5 weeks actually.)

      I’m so pleased that you thought the post was positive enough to share with your loved ones. Most of all, though, I’m so glad to hear that you still have your mother and that you’re close to her. Not everyone is that lucky. I send her a virtual hug. And one to you for coming out of lurkerdom to post about something as sweet as this.

  12. These are trying times indeed, yet amid the worry, the calamities and the horror, the many lights of beautiful souls shine forth. We see all too much of the worst being reported in our media, and very little of the hopeful, the goodness and the beauty. Thank you Kafka for making me laugh, and I offer my best wishes for the recovery and good health of your mother.

    • You’re right, JodyJoy, the worst is endlessly emphasized by the media (mainstream, non-MSM, or even social media). It can be mentally exhausting at times, particularly if one is living in America right now and particularly when it just builds up, climaxing in a crescendo with a particularly horrifying event like the recent Las Vegas massacre. It’s like there is no escape or mental refuge. Except, perhaps, momentarily, with baby animals. And chocolate. 🙂 I’m glad I could make you laugh, my dear, even if only briefly.

  13. The best post! Seriously. I adore all animals and have made those brownies countless times (definetly need to toast the nuts first).
    So very sorry on your mom’s passing.. be well.

    • Have you ever tried making the gluten-free version of the brownies? I’m only asking because another poster said it was actually better, if that can be imagined. Apparently, there is a bakery/café in his town which makes both versions and he was astonished that the gluten-free was even tastier!

      • Have not! I should, however, given the increasing number of friends in my life who are gluten free. Thanks for the encouragement to give it a try.

  14. Thank you so much for your post! I understand your feelings. I am a foreigner living in Catalonia (Spain) now, the place I considered ideal to escape from the worries and problems of my country of origin. And it is ironic that one day I wake up and find myself in the middle of a revolution(?). I cannot do anything about it, I know little about the future and all I can do is just open your blog and smile at the elephants you posted 🙂 thank you!

    • Oh god, that is the height of horrible irony: to move to the Catalan region as an escape from the tension, stressers, misery, and problems of one’s divisive world only to wake up to the situation this week that, yes, does verge on a near revolution or, at the very least, major civil unrest.

      I can’t imagine what you must be going through on a daily basis, Natalia, but I know it must be mentally exhausting, stressful, and so incredibly tense. I’ve seen the videos of Catalan voters being dragged out, some by their hair, or the photos of the Catalan firefighters standing before the riot police to protect the crowd, and I’ve read the accounts in various European papers. I honestly don’t have the words. I’m sorry for what all of you are going through over there, and I just hope democracy can triumph without violence or bloodshed. (Although that seems unlikely, unfortunately.)

      I’m glad the baby elephants could provide a few tiny minutes of mental escape and lightness from all that you’re facing. I’m just sorry it’s so little and so inadequate.

      Stay safe, Natalia. I will keep you in my thoughts. I’m not just saying that. I was too exhausted to initially reply to the comments to this post but, upon reading yours yesterday about the situation you faced, I had to say something because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. (And I couldn’t just reply to you without being rude to everyone else.) I just keep thinking of you in that incredibly tense, volatile, politically difficult situation. I will keep thinking of you, keep you in my thoughts, send you positive vibes of energy and strength, and hope that things improve for ALL of you over there. I really hope you remain safe and well. A small hug, my dear. Et bon courage.

  15. My dear K, I’m so sorry to hear about these trying times. I hope your mother is resting and getting better. It sounds like you’ve had quite a lot of things to deal with these past few months.
    If that helps, those pics are perfection. I got sort of bad news so they were a welcome ray of sunshine. The praying otter cracks me up!
    My joy is that I’ll be coming back two your country next months- two weeks of vacation, to see friends. I’m very excited about that.
    I need to get back into perfume -I saw two magic words on the post below (incense! Myrrrrrrrrh!!) so I shall start with this one. 🙂
    Sending you love my dear

  16. All the very best to your mother for her recovery, and good health in the future. She sounds like a very special lady. Thanks very much for the wonderful photographs, and for adding a special touch of “meerkat” happiness to my day. Meerkats are fascinating creatures. The local zoo has a smart little colony, I should go see them soon for they do make me smile. When I’m ready for a chocolate treat I’ll have to try the brownies. Perhaps Aftelier’s chocolate chef’s essence would be good to try with this recipe….

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