Devil's food cake with dark chocolate frosting -- that's my all-time favorite dessert. Like most people, I've had a love affair with the cocoa bean as long as I can remember. Why do we love chocolate so?
Quora.com explains it this way: "The basic fact that chocolate tastes good and we enjoy eating it means that the body releases dopamine during chocolate consumption. ... Chocolate also contains theobromine, a chemical known to increase heart rate and energy, as well as arousal." Dopamine is the same chemical our brains release during sex, an adventurous experience or an especially gregarious laugh. Enough said.
Lovers give chocolate when jewelry just won't do. Rich chocolate pairs with red wine splendidly, each enhancing the other and bringing an almost euphoric reaction to the taste. For good reason, a box of chocolates ("You never know what you're going to get.") is a staple for Valentines Day and for any husband in the doghouse. Only chocolate or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream will do for binging after a break-up. Attend any convention's social hour and watch the crowd gather around the chocolate fountain with glee.
It's been proven that white chocolate does not affect the brain the same as its brown counterpart and that you generally don't crave sweeter chocolate more than other types. In fact, chocolate that is less sweet also has less calories, and dark, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate can change your outlook on your whole day.
All I know is that were Hershey, Ghirardelli and Mars were to all shut down at once, no pandemic could match our collective reaction.
Several of my friends and followers have offered their thoughts and favorite chocolates for this post. Here are some of the great comments I received (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Pat B.- Chocolate Molten Cake from Chilis. It’s soooo good.
Kathi B.- Chocolate, how do I love you ? Let me count the ways. It pairs great with red wine or berries or oranges or make a mole sauce richer. So decadent and makes any celebration that much more special.
Nadyne H.- While I'm not a huge fan of chocolate, I have a couple great chocolate memories! I remember my dad always had a little crystal candy dish next to his chair filled with semi sweet chocolate chips. He snacked on those all day! The last time I saw my mother alive was at a nursing home I checked her into to rehab her hip. I had a hot fudge sundae waiting for her when she was rolled into her room. I think she was happier seeing that than seeing me! When I said good-bye, I turned around and looked back at her sitting there with her bib on, her smiling mouth covered in hot fudge! I remember thinking that I'd never see her that happy again. I was right...
Jennifer C.- I like all chocolate no favorites it all depends on my mood, but having a birthday on Halloween you know we ate a lot of chocolate!!! My brother and I share that birth date and we always got more candy because the neighbors all knew it was our birthday.
Campingcoops- I’m not picky, I love all things chocolate. It is my COMFORT food. Makes any day better!
Lindsay (The Photographic One)- Chocolate always got me through tough times at work. Whenever I had particularly challenging projects, the company president would bring me bags of Dove chocolate. For me it is a major food group.
Outofsightadventures- I am not a huge fan of chocolate, however, I do occasionally enjoy a square or two of 72% chocolate... It’s like a fine wine.
Bruce & Linda (Omnibus)- Linda likes a small piece of good quality dark chocolate; me, not so much. I prefer chocolate as an accompaniment -- chocolate dipped strawberry, apricot, or pineapple; chocolate sauce on a (vegan) ice cream sundae; almond M&M; etc. A friend used to make chocolate drizzled popcorn as a holiday gift, equal parts dark and white chocolate drizzle.
Ladybugg- I love most things chocolate... but my absolute favorite is Ferrero Rocher in the gold wrapper. It doesn't get any better than that for me!
BLSMSS- I have a chocolate dessert when I do my wine parties -- it is as fine as wine, and both are better!
Donna H.- My favorite is chocolate meringue pie! My grandmother used to make this and it reminds me of her and her cooking skills each time I eat a slice... or a pie!!
My ending quote for this topic comes from British comedian Tommy Cooper: "My wife said, 'Take me in your arms and whisper something soft and sweet.' I said, 'chocolate fudge.'"
According to Wikipedia, "the first known agricultural show was held by Salford Agricultural Society, Lancashire, in 1768." Lancashire is a county in a far northern section of England. Agricultural shows evolved to country fairs and in America, they are mostly state and county fairs. These fairs usually include a livestock show and auction, a trade fair, competitions among local residents, and entertainment, including live music by local artists and headliners, a carnival and what is now called "fair food." Often a rodeo is held in conjunction with the fair, and we've even seen auto racing, monster truck shows and demolition derbies get in on the event calendars.
We usually avoid state fairs because they are usually quite a bit more crowded than their county cousins. It is especially fun to visit rural, small-town fairs. The entertainment is not normally national headlining acts, but I have seen Roger Miller, the Smothers and Righteous Brothers (awesome combination), Little River Band, Anne Murray and other previously big-time artists in the smaller venues.
Otherwise, my favorite sections in the fair are the animals being shown and the collections of all kinds, including the most random things you can think of. Besides the usual (rocks, gems, quilts, stamps and coins), we've seen Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind memorabilia, antique camping gear, and even dryer lint. You just never know what you're going to see. The locals yearning to win a ribbon is not just a cliché. Many spend all year to compete in their chosen hobby, be it baking, sewing, pickling, floral arrangement or other skill, and it usually shows.
Fair food has created its own genre, and many fairs compete with the craziest things they could batter and deep fry. The last one we attended had just begun to serve deep-fried beer and deep-fried butter. Often, though, fair favorites are fresh corn-on-the-cob, funnel cakes, corn dogs and the always popular barbecued turkey legs. Some people attend fairs just for the food.
When my kids were young, the carnival at the county fair was in the front of their minds from the time it first showed on TV commercials during summer until we took them in September when it was finally open. These traveling shows were a bit scary to adults, especially the carneys working the rides and booths, but the kids always had a blast, getting on as many amusement park rides that we could afford.
If you don't mind neighbors, animals, walking or high-calorie food, there isn't much that is more enjoyable than a day at the fair. I highly recommend it!
As usual, I received some great input about country fairs by my friends and followers. Here are some of those comments, though I have edited or paraphrased some of them:
Carolynne S.- I have always liked fairs they are great to see.
Jennifer C.- Fair food!!!!! Going to the fair as a kid was always fun but as an adult I only go for the food and to see the animals
Karen E.- My favorite a few years ago was the Sterling Fair in Massachusetts watching an ox-pulling contest where additional cement weights were added to carts strapped to oxen.
Rod G.- Music! My wife and I attend 2-4 country music concerts at the Washington State Fair every year. The fair is large enough that there are interesting exhibits and the concert-goers usually arrive early to walk the grounds and eat interesting foods that they might otherwise not even try. Also the concert-goers are a large enough percentage of the total crowd that they create an air of excitement and electricity to make the experience very enjoyable. The fair always books some of the biggest names in country music.
BLSMSS- Visiting county fairs bring back many memories as when I was younger and taking my children to them and watching them have fun. My fondest memories are seeing old friends from school and near towns and their families. It’s a time to catch up on old friends.
Sonny and Linda- When I was a kid, my parents would go to the county fair. Our county was a farming county and I actually liked the smells of the livestock barns. The canning displays with the ribbons was a sight to see. I liked the horse-pulls and the tractor-pulls. At some point, my dad would buy me a corn dog and hot chocolate. Yum, yum!
Kay G.- My fondest memory was watching my younger brother and his friend playing dueling drums (instead of dueling banjos of popularity). They both set up their drum sets and they won. My favorite was the barns with the animals and the exhibits and the fairway with the food.
Ray & Ann- When we had a fiber farm we did the county fairs. It always amazed us when teachers brought the kids through, they didn't know what they were talking about, and I guess they didn't want to ask questions in front of the kids. My wife was spinning and the teacher told the students she was weaving, but the best was a male teacher who pointed out the size of a Billy goats "udder" :(
C Farmer- We have gone to fairs since I was a baby. My son now shows pigs and will do pigs and beef next year. Hopefully the fair in August is still going to happen.
RandDtouring- Growing up you had to go to the fair. L.A. County Fair was mine. I loved all the smells of ALL the foods, drinking the over-priced beer and getting crazy with friends. Of course, it was always fun working there, too.
Steviegcampingmachine- Visited one in Great Falls 7 years ago, just happened to be there at the right time. I absolutely loved the livestock show and the deep fried ... everything! lol
Rick & Christine B.- Oh, I loved the fairs -- the smells, the sights, the animals, the exhibits. I hope to visit more this year.
It just so happens that Roger Miller wrote a song or two about country fairs. My ending quote is from one such song, The Tom Green County Fair: "Well, a Sunday at the fair can make a memory more valuable than gold, especially when you're ten years old."
One of the common threads between people of all walks of life is that of having one or more best friends. It is quite possible to maintain this type of connection throughout one's life, even as other types of relationships come and go. Most of the outstanding marriages I have seen are between best friends.
With most people, their first bestie comes along very young, possibly in Kindergarten or first grade. Life is difficult, as are older siblings, if any, and sharing good and bad times with a friend is as natural as breathing. I'm no psychologist, but I imagine that the tendency to seek out a best friend is hardwired into our collective psyche.
Life happens, and sometimes very young friends are separated by moving, a falling out or simply growing apart. This happens with grade school friends, too, even with high school friends, but the older they get, the more best friends are apt to stay in contact. College or adult life, work, recreation and other natural gathering places may supply multiple very good friends and the ones that stick it out through bad times often become your favorites.
The one prerequisite "best friends" seem to have is to support one another despite the circumstances -- always having each other's back. You don't owe one another any favors. In fact, you don't even keep count. Fair weather friends just can't compete for your time and attention. When a best friend calls, you drop everything. Maybe this is why best friends make such good married couples.
My first best friend was Kenny Hakida when I was five years old. He lived next door to my grandparents, which was a long walk from my house. We moved 40 miles away when I was ten and I never saw Kenny again. I later learned that his parents were interned in World War II after Pearl Harbor, and I was never able to talk to them about it.
I had a few other best friends in my adolescence and in high school in Southern California, but many of them went to out-of-state colleges while I got married and had kids, then moving a thousand miles away meant the end of any of those relationships. In Washington State, my younger brother filled that role, through bowling, karaoke, camping, fishing and other activities we both enjoyed. He's the taller one in my karaoke photo below. After a few years I moved across the country to be close to, and eventually marry, my present and last best friend.
I envy the friends of today, with all of that technology available to help stay in touch. In my younger days, even long distance phone calls were very expensive, let alone seeing one another. If we had had the Internet, free long distance, Facebook, Skype, GroupMe or any other of the seemingly magical communications they have now, maybe my old friends wouldn't be strangers today.
Thankfully, my wife and I have each other to lean on in close quarters during the pandemic lockdown. If it weren't for that relationship, who knows how well we would survive it.
I had some interesting comments to share this week, and many seem to have also married their best bud. Here are a few of those comments (and I've edited or paraphrased some):
Nancy & Jonathan- My best friend is Sue. We met in the eighth grade at a private school in Massachusetts; she lived in New Hampshire at the time. Her mom had died when she was eight and my mother became like a second mom to her. We shared many joys and sorrows, many ups and downs, and many laughs and tears over the years. Considering that I am an Air Force brat, that we lived in different states, only went to school together for two years, went to different states after high school (my family moved to Germany; I went to college in New Jersey; she was in Connecticut for awhile), it is amazing that we managed to keep in touch over the years. We still write real letters to each other and try to see each other several times a year. It's easier now that we both live in New Hampshire about an hour apart. In 2018 we celebrated fifty years of friendship by taking a river cruise from Basel to Amsterdam.
Dennis & Lorece H.- My best friend is Lorece. She had a crush on me in high school and I didn't even know. I fell in love with her 41 years ago and we are now growing old together. We are still in love and she is still my best friend.
Mark & Anneliese- My best friend is my husband. We were friends before we got married and still are. We have gone through thick and thin. Mark is my prayer-partner -- we have been praying together since before we got married. We are totally silly, like teenagers, and don't mind showing our goofy side to one another. When I have troubles I can always text/call him to ask for help or pray for me, and he faithfully does.
TheClearyClan- I met my wife while we both worked for the same company and in the same department in 1972. We became best of friends and got married in the 70's. We have four daughters and seven grandkids (so far). I remember many things my grandparents and my parents did with me and my four siblings. I am the oldest and I have been doing my best to create memories for my kids and grandkids. This includes things like trips to zoos and camping trips.
John And Debbie M.- My closest best friend is my husband. I have three best friends from elementary school and one current best friend in Texas. We are all blessed if we can count our best friends on one hand.
Traveling Doberman’s- My best friend is Wanda. We met the first day of kindergarten and have been friends for 57 years. No matter what or how far away, we are always there for each other.
Nadyne H.- We all have best friends at different stages of our lives and they come to mean different things to us at those times. In the 7th grade in Tucson AZ, I met a few girls in band. We all played the clarinet and we became very close. To this day, 54 years later, these ladies are still very dear friends - family really. A s an adult, I've met friends over the years. Some are still so close to me that we can talk as if no time has passed even after a few years! I consider these friends "family" as well. "Friends become our chosen family," it is said. That is so true! I love all these family members of mine and I don't mind telling them so!
My ending quote comes from an Israeli psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who said, "Friends are sometimes a big help when they share your feelings. In the context of decisions, the friends who will serve you best are those who understand your feelings but are not overly impressed by them."
There are many more reasons I love the rain now. Having lived through severe droughts, rain still brings an almost automatic reflex of relief. It is the one weather event that happens worldwide, so it can help you feel connected to the earth no matter where you are, much like seeing the moon or stars can do for you at night. It represents sustaining life in so many ways.
Living beings require water to live, even more than food, and rain is how we get all of our fresh water. A shower can give a sense of cleansing, of washing away the grime of life, of washing away our sins. It pours through the atmosphere, cooling and humidifying hot air, and clings to specks of pollution to literally condition the air around us. It moisturizes your skin and cleanses plant leaves. It adds moisture to farms' soil and the rivers it creates are dammed for hydroelectric power.
But the best thing I like about the rain is its sound. If you've never fallen to sleep to the soothing pitter-patter of rain on the roof above you, you've really missed out. Of course, there's really nothing like hearing a hard rain on a metal roof. It can be deafening but awe-inspiring.
Ever notice how quickly the scenery greens up after a summer rain?
What I miss most about living in Kansas are the summer storms. Though often severe, we haven't experienced anything even close to it since we moved away. It always reminded me that without rain, there is no rainbow.
We received some great comments from friends, fans and followers. Here are a few of those (although some have been edited or paraphrased):
Sharon M.- I used to love the rain. I grew up in Montana in what is more or less a semi-arid climate and I especially loved the summer thunderstorms. Sound and fury and driving downpour, then the sun would come out and the world would look clean and fresh again. Then I relocated from MT to KY, such beautiful pictures of horses grazing in green grass under the oak trees... But I forgot to ask one question: how much rain does it take to keep the grass green? The answer is, sometimes as much rain in one month as we got all year in Montana! More than once I've sworn that if I stepped in mud deep enough to go over the top of my rubber farm boots, I'll pack up and go back to Montana where the ground FREEZES!
Jeanne W.- Love the fresh smell of the air following a rainstorm and the sound of rain pelting the tin roofs that were common in South Texas back in the day.
Angela T.- Here in Washington we have been getting record amount of rainfall. I don't mind the normal occasional drizzle, but this is getting soggy. I like some sun breaks between the rain. It isn't too gloomy, just soggy.
Cathy R.- The thing I love most about rain is right before it starts. When the humidity releases petrichor from the earth and rocks, and the scent of thanksgiving rises from the ground. It's like the voiceless whisper of gratitude for sustenance. Then the plops and splashes as the rain douses dry patches of land make such a pleasant sound.
Nadyne H.- When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark and kidnappers! When it was storming one night, my dad told me that kidnappers don't work in the rain... I always felt safe when it rained after that! I still do, even though I know that was ridiculous! I love when we have thunder and lightening the best! Storms fascinate me and always have.
Patty B.- Rain washes everything clean and brings new life (April showers bring May flowers). I always love the sound of rain. It relaxes me and brings me peace.
Kathy S.- Rain in the desert... it has a certain smell. It's the creosote when its soaked -- there's nothing like it. Also, just the sound of the rain is calming for me.
BLSMSS- Rain makes me happy when it brings out the greenest of grass, beautiful flowers, the birds finding food and the fresh smell after. I love walking in it and, when I was younger, loved playing soccer in it.
Elsiesmom- The sound It makes on the roof of my camper. If only the mud were gone instantly...
Patte M.- When we had the old farmhouse (131 years old), it had a tin roof and the rain on the roof made it so easy to fall asleep, very soothing.
RicU- Loving Spoonful sang about this
Tami and Barry “Cruising in Our Cabin”- Rain makes me happy because it takes me back to my childhood at Grandma's house -- she always had the windows open. At night with the windows open I could hear the patter of the rain hitting the tree leaves and grass. Such a calming feeling that sound would give! To this day I love my windows open on a rainy day.
Habadabeer- I keep thinking of great music with a rain theme: CCR, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” - The Who, “Rain On Me” - Peter Gabriel, “Red Rain” - Prince, “Purple Rain” - The Carpenters, “Rainy Days And Mondays” - Eurythmics, “Here Comes The Rain Again” - CCR (again!), “Who’ll Stop The Rain” - Willie Nelson, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” - Whitesnake, “Crying In The Rain” - Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” - James Taylor, “Fire And Rain” - Gene Kelly, “Singing In The Rain”... I’m sure there are many others, but I didn’t list “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”. Its only redeeming grace is that it was in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”!
Jojo H.- I love the rain. The air smells so clean. The rain also motivates me to bake. Of course my hubby loves it.
My closing quote this week is from American poet Langston Hughes: "Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby."
Thanks, everyone, for your contributions! Another topic will be posted shortly.
There are some obvious, even cliche, feelings everyone has about sunrise, at least in some point in their lives. It symbolizes a brand new start, of leaving yesterday behind and the promise of good things to come. I have those feelings, too, but wanted to delve deeper. There's something else about watching a sunrise, something visceral.
First, compared to sunsets, the colors and radiance of sunrises are often more brilliant at sunrise. This may be because of atmospheric conditions in which haze and smog can build all day, leaving sunsets muted, though sometimes with a wider palate. Also, the sun approaching the horizon has its rays slowly building until the first light leaps in a blinding shine of light. With the opposite trajectory, the sunlight fades from its last direct light of the day. These might be comparable to your eyes, depending on conditions, but emotionally the former is more exciting.
Comparisons would not be fair without considering the landscape at the location you choose. The shape, type and abundance of clouds can make or break either daybreak or day's end, so very often you do have to be in the right place at the right time. Too many, too thick or too few clouds can ruin the photogenic aspects of the shot. In Florida you have the best opportunity for great sunrises on the Atlantic shore and for wonderful sunsets on the Gulf shore. In Colorado, sunrises east of the Rockies will be much better than sunsets due to the extremely high horizon -- the sun never gives the vivid hues because it has already set behind the mountains. I've always loved both sunrise and sunset over large bodies of water, so my best photos depend on that -- sunrise in Maine, sunset at the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in Upstate New York. All of that said, coastal regions suffer fog or marine layers that often eliminate sunrises completely. That was true often during our travel through New England.
For some, sunrise can be a religious experience, or at least a confirmation of the awesome God they pray to. I'm not religious, but I felt the sunrise I witnessed from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park definitely had a spiritual aura.
Take all the science, the fact that I am up early to watch, the emotional cliches and crisp, brilliant colors, and I'd have to say that sunrise is always something special and my preference. Yes, I have taken some amazing sunset photos, but just as many sunrises have made my favorites list and the other factors I've mentioned make the difference.
We did have fewer comments by fans and followers on this topic, probably because they may not have felt much differently than most people regarding hope and opportunity. Here are a few of those (although some have been edited or paraphrased):
RicU- Sunrise... an entire day I haven’t messed up. Oh Boy!!!
Tim & Crista- Sunrise to me says yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come..... So, be here now! That is why today is the present.
Brenda and Bob- Taking a Fork in the Road- Nice to know that with all the other things on our minds, one can still pause and enjoy the beauty that still surrounds us.
John And Debbie M.- Sunrise from a boaters view... Another beautiful day to enjoy the wonders of of sea.
Paul H.- The sunrise is the promise of a new day! So thankful!
Mary Lou C.- The beauty is something to carry with me throughout my day.
Mike H.- There is a freshness that comes with the dawn bringing with it hope that this day will be better than yesterday.
I'll end with a quote from a 19th century leader in New Zealand: "Sunrise offered a very beautiful spectacle; the water was quite unruffled, but the motion communicated by the tides was so great that, although there was not a breath of air stirring, the sea heaved slowly with a grand and majestic motion."
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.