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.
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, 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:
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:
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?
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:
Moslem Street, Xi’an, China:
Beijing’s legendary Night Market and its… er… goodies:
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.
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.)
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)
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.
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
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
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.