Drear Diary

Author: Kirsten K., Books, History, Literature

On March 9, 1992, a former scrap metal dealer rang up a London literary agent and asked the question that would upend one of the most enduring mysteries of the previous century: “I’ve got Jack the Ripper’s diary. Would you be interested in seeing it?” The story that followed was almost as convoluted and contentious as the search for Jack the Ripper itself, involving forensic and psychological analyses, confessions and retractions, infighting among “Ripperologists,” the intersection of two sensational murder cases, and the curious appearance of a pocket watch that may have belonged to the killer.*

At the time, I was getting my degree in psychology and had a particular interest in the minds and motivations of serial killers (not an especially swoon-worthy topic, unless by “swoon” you mean “pass out from fright”). I read about the diary in the newspaper shortly before its publication in 1993 and got a copy for my birthday later that year. Until then, I’d only had a passing interest in the mystery of Jack the Ripper, but after reading the diary I became well and truly hooked.

Over the years, I’ve read numerous books on the subject and spent hours on forums like Casebook: Jack the Ripper going over various theories about the killer’s identity, but the majority of posters seemed to dismiss the diary as an elaborate hoax. While it is one of the most fascinating documents I’ve ever read, the diary has been dogged from the beginning by persistent questions about its authenticity and the dubious manner in which it was discovered. When the man who made that extraordinary phone call eventually confessed to forging the diary, the skeptics were smug, but even though few believed he had the necessary skills to pull it off and he later retracted his confession (then changed his story again), the damage was done. Most experts agreed that the diary was likely a forgery, and they returned to their furious speculations about the identity of Jack the Ripper.

But I’d never been able to shake my conviction that the alleged author of the diary, Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick, was the real killer. For years, family and friends have had to put up with my repeated discussions and dissection of the diary, as well as the trial of Florence Maybrick, the young wife of James Maybrick who—in an ironic twist—was convicted of murdering her husband in 1889.

Despite the doubters, nobody has been able to prove that the diary was forged. Comparable hoaxes, such as the Hitler diaries, have been uncovered quickly, but as the years passed without a similar revelation about the Ripper diary, my belief in its legitimacy only strengthened. A forger would have had to be an expert in both the Jack the Ripper killings and the Maybrick murder trial, the psychology of a serial killer, the symptoms of arsenic addiction, and the composition and style of Victorian-era paper, ink, and writing. A person like that would surely have come forward at some point to take credit for this monumental feat, but no credible forger has stepped up or been exposed.

Then, this past summer, it was announced that a new book about the diary would be released in September proving that it was an authentic 19th-century document that had been traced directly to James Maybrick himself. I was unable to obtain one of the 500 limited edition copies of this book, but it claims to present two primary findings:

  1. In-depth forensic analysis of the diary dates it definitively to the late 1800s, rejecting the theory that it’s a modern forgery.
  2. Research has revealed that, during a 1992 renovation of Battlecrease House (home of James Maybrick at the time of the murders), the diary was discovered beneath the floorboards of Maybrick’s own bedroom by three workmen, one of whom knew the infamous caller.

Given that the diary contains details about the murders that could only have been known by the killer and police at the time, these revelations make the strongest case yet that James Maybrick and Jack the Ripper are one and the same.

True skeptics will remain unconvinced, because there is an entire industry that has sprung up around the Ripper riddle and people are invested in maintaining the mystery, but after stumping seekers for almost 130 years, I’m more confident than ever that this case is closed.

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Diary of Jack the Ripper


The limited edition facsimile of the diary with updates from its owner, Robert Smith, is currently sold out, but you can email the publisher, Mango Books, and request to be informed if and when it is reprinted.


*The story of the watch is almost as intriguing as the diary itself. For a more thorough description of the discovery and analysis of the Maybrick watch, read Ripper Diary.



And the Oscar for Best Snack Goes To…

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Food, Food & Drink, Movies, Pop Culture, Recipes, Snacks, Television

Oscar night is my favorite night of television. For as long as I can remember, Kirsten has come over and we settle in on the couch for a long night of eating, drinking, and yelling at the television.

I love seeing all the beautiful dresses on the red carpet while I’m in comfy clothes on the couch with my dog in my lap. I was lucky enough to go to the Oscars once and, while it was a spectacular evening (Faye Dunaway cut in front of me in the bathroom line), it was super stressful.

As much as I love watching the show, (The monologue! The winners! The montage!) I look forward to our snacking tradition just as much. Every year it is the same: champagne (natch) and popcorn. And not just ANY popcorn…Oscar-worthy popcorn! Yes, friends, this snack should be on every table at the Governor’s Ball. Heck, if they gave out this popcorn in a gold-plated bowl instead of the Oscar, I think there would be zero no-shows.

So, set your DVR for Live from the Red Carpet, chill your champagne, and make yourself a big bowl of this game-changing snack that will make your microwave* variety popcorn as boring as the Price Waterhouse portion of the Oscars ceremony.

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:


½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. canola oil
½ stick salted butter, melted
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. (or to taste) Tabasco sauce

Get out your big pasta pot and heat canola oil on high heat until shimmering. Swirl it around so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add popcorn and put the lid on the pan. Once you hear the popcorn start to pop (this will take a few minutes), turn heat down to medium high and shake the pan a few times. When there are several seconds between pops, remove from heat. There are usually some kernels that don’t pop. That is O.K.

While popcorn is popping, melt the butter and mix in the Tabasco.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and toss with the butter/Tabasco mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and salt & pepper to taste, then toss again until mixed well.

Immediately start the second batch of popcorn, because the first bowl will be gone before Giuliana Rancic asks Greta Gerwig who designed her dress.


*Note from Kirsten: Kirsti has always insisted on making stovetop popcorn, which takes a little more time and effort than using the microwave, but which makes a HUGE difference. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried popcorn popped in hot oil on the stove. Don’t take shortcuts with pre-Oscars popcorn!

Second note from Kirsten: for those who don’t like spicy foods or want to put a different spin on this recipe, replace the Tabasco with 5-10 drops of liquid smoke.


Na Nanaimo, Na Nanaimo, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bar

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Recipes, Sweets

For the past two weeks, I have vicariously skated, skied, and slid across the ice and snow in PyeongChang from the comfort of my couch. Over the years, my Olympic training has given me the ability to get through a 5-hour telecast in 1-2 hours (I could medal in speed watching), and I like to reward myself for this feat with a sweet treat. In the spirit of the games, I decided to go for the gold and seek inspiration among the top medalists, but while the Norwegians may have set the bar, the Canadians have perfected it.

There is much debate about exactly when the Nanaimo bar made its debut (likely sometime in the early 1950s), but in the years since, this no-bake dessert has achieved cult status in Canada. Named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, there are many variations on the recipe, but all involve three basic things: a brownie-like crumb base, creamy custard filling, and chocolate icing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

I first heard of these bars from my boss, who makes them each Christmas. When she was a showgirl in the ’70s, one of her fellow dancers shared the handwritten recipe, which she labeled “Nanimo Bars,” and which my dyslexic boss calls Namino bars(!). Despite the confusion, I was able to find various recipes and information about Nanaimo bars online, but since I’ve only tasted my boss’s version, hers has qualified for this post.

In her recipe, vanilla pudding powder is used in place of the traditional custard powder, which can be more difficult to find,* but they can be used interchangeably. If I’m to be the judge, the custard is what sets these bars apart, but the combination of chewy base, creamy filling, and rich topping makes them a 1-2-3 sweep.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end this weekend, but you can whip up these bars in record time, so take a break from sofa spectating and go all “oot” to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes—and sweets!

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Illustration by Melissa Elliott


1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
10 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups graham crackers, crumbled
2 cups coconut, chopped fine
1 cup chopped nuts

Place butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl that is set in boiling water (i.e. double boiler). Stir until mixture resembles custard. Blend in graham crackers, coconut, and nuts. Press evenly into a greased 8×8” or 9×9” pan.

½ cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. custard powder or vanilla pudding powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a small bowl, combine milk and custard (or vanilla pudding) powder until powder is dissolved. In a larger bowl, cream butter, milk/custard mixture, and powdered sugar. Spread filling on top of base and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

8 baking squares of semi-sweet chocolate, OR
1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. butter

In a medium sauce pan, melt chocolate and butter together over a low flame. Pour the warm mixture evenly over the filling and return bars to fridge. Once the icing has hardened, cut into squares. Makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size of squares.


*Custard powder can be found at World Market and many high-end markets and specialty foods stores.

Variation: replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips for the icing, as in the top right picture above.


Note: Kirsti went to see Bananarama in concert this week, and I couldn’t resist riffing on the chorus from one of their hits for the title of this post. 😊


Swoon Giver

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Holidays


♪ ♫ Swoon giver, why do you beguile?
To make our readers smile some way.
You sigh maker, you breath taker,
Wherever you show up this Valentine’s Day.

Two bloggers, off to write a post
To plug the site we host jointly.
We’re after the same worthy end:
To start a lovely trend
With stuff we recommend
For follower and friend,
Swoon giver and we. ♩ ♬

 Happy Valentine’s Day, Swoonhearts! 



More Powder to You

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Wellness

Readers of this blog know that I like to use an unorthodox hair wash in place of shampoo. As someone who’s also used henna to dye my hair and clay masks to deep-cleanse my scalp, I’m comfortable playing with paste and mud when it comes to my hair care regimen, which is why I pounced on this trio of plant powders from Khadi Natural.

Amla, reetha, and skikakai have a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine. When the fruits of these plants are dried, ground into powder, and mixed with water to make a paste, they provide numerous benefits for the hair and scalp.

Amla, which comes from the Indian gooseberry fruit, is high in vitamin C, a key nutrient in slowing the effects of aging. It is believed that using amla paste and oil on the hair and scalp can prevent hair loss and premature graying. When used in conjunction with henna, amla can improve dye uptake and intensify hair color.

The soapnut tree, known as reetha in Hindi, produces a fruit that contains saponins: natural surfactants that gently remove dirt and oil. (Soapnuts make a surprisingly effective organic laundry detergent that is quite capable at cleaning without harsh chemicals.)

The pod-like fruit of shikakai can also cleanse the hair, but is primarily touted for its conditioning and detangling effects. It is said to strengthen hair from the roots and promote hair growth.

I have been experimenting with this trio and found that each plant works well for different purposes. Unlike my sweet-smelling hair wash, these powders are “earthy,” to say the least. The upside is that there is no lingering odor once they’ve been washed out. I applied each of them in the same way by mixing equal parts powder and aloe vera gel in a small bowl before working the paste into wet hair. (I discovered that using aloe gel in place of water gives the paste some slip, which makes it easier to massage into the hair and scalp.) For my medium-thick, long hair, 1-2 tablespoons of powder with an equal amount of aloe gel was sufficient for each application.

Reetha worked best as a cleanser. It actually foamed up a bit, like soap, and removed all traces of oil and dirt. This is something I might use once a week or every two weeks to remove buildup and clarify the scalp.

The amla paste did not work for me as a shampoo, leaving some oil behind (and necessitating a follow-up wash), but I’ve found that it makes a great dry shampoo. With its neutral tan color, it blends well with my brownish-blonde hair,* and just ½ teaspoon of the dry powder massaged through the scalp absorbs oil and livens locks on days when there’s no time to wash.

Another way to receive the benefits of amla is to mix 2 teaspoons of powder with 8 oz. of hot water, steep until the liquid cools, strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and pour into a dropper bottle. Apply the liquid to the scalp a couple of times a week, massage in, and let dry. (There’s no need to wash it out—simply brush hair when dry.)

The real star of this lineup, in my opinion, is shikakai. It worked as both an effective hair wash and a stellar conditioner, leaving my hair feeling softer and more manageable than I’ve EVER felt it. I noticed the difference from the moment I rinsed it out in the shower and continued to feel it when my hair was dry. I have no idea what chemical constituents in the fruit are responsible for this effect, but it’s remarkable. Follow the directions for steeping above (replacing amla with shikakai) and strain into a spray bottle for spritzing on dry hair between washes to boost shine and manageability.

As with my Terressentials hair wash, combing out wet hair after washing with these powders is quick, easy, and painless—no conditioner required.

For taming all types of tresses, these plants are a natural, so if you’re searching for hair care solutions that have stood the test of time, more powder to you!

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Amla, Reetha, and Shikakai Hair Powders


As of this writing, the Khadi Hair Care Combo is no longer available from Amazon, but the company sells individual tins of amla, reetha, and shikakai hair powders on their website. Alternatively, a Google or Amazon search (e.g. “organic amla hair powder”) will turn up numerous retailers and purchasing options.


*For darker hair colors, add unsweetened cocoa powder until the desired shade is achieved.


Castile Yourself

Author: Kirsten K., Drinks, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Recipes

Here in Southern California, fall pretty much passed us by this year, and it was starting to look like winter might also be a no-show. I’ve been wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt on my nightly walk for the past couple of months, and the closest I’ve come to snow was getting caught in the fabricated flurries at Disneyland. While those being bomb-ed with frigid temps and icy conditions in the east might be envious of this mild weather, I look forward to our brief cold season each year with excited anticipation and have been impatiently waiting for months to sit wrapped in a fleecy blanket while sipping (and reading) something steamy.

Well, steel yourself, because winter has finally arrived! This week brought cooler temperatures to SoCal and the first big rainstorm of the season. To celebrate, I made a beeline for a book, a blanket, and a batch of my favorite cold weather treat: Castillian* hot chocolate.

Several years ago, Kirsti and I went to Barcelona, where we enjoyed a traditional Spanish breakfast of chocolate caliente con churros as we sat at an outdoor cafe on La Rambla. ¡Delicioso! This ain’t your mama’s hot cocoa, unless your mamá can trace her ancestors back to the historic Castile region of central Spain. The secret is the addition of cornstarch, which thickens the mixture to an almost pudding-like consistency, giving it a decadent richness and a smooth, glossy sheen.

I have been making Castillian hot chocolate for years and it is foolproof. I don’t remember where I found the simple recipe, but it seems to have come from The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two), so I must give credit where credit is due. Pop a handful of frozen churros in the oven when you get started and they’ll be ready for dunking by the time your hot chocolate has simmered to perfection.

It appears that this cold snap will be gone in a flash, so before Mother Nature takes the starch out of winter, put some starch in the water and you’ll be on your way to a cup of hot chocolate that is sure to steal—and warm—your heart.

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:


½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
½ cup water
1 quart (4 cups) milk
1 tsp. cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder (optional)

Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste. Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder, if using. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer. Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy, and completely smooth. Pour steaming hot into coffee mugs. Serves six.


*The alternate spelling of Castilian is also common.

You can veganize this recipe by using non-dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut (if using canned coconut milk, dilute first with double the amount of water—i.e. 1⅓ cups of canned coconut milk + 2⅔ cups water = 4 cups of milk).


Will You Be Swooning New Year’s Eve?

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Holidays


♪ ♫ Maybe it’s much too early in the day,
Oh, but we thought we’d ask you anyway:
Will you be swooning New Year’s,
New Year’s Eve?

Wonder who’ll stand beneath a winter moon,
Champagne in hand, and fall into a swoon,
As we ring in the New Year,
New Year’s Eve.

Maybe our readers, so engrossed,
As they peruse our latest post,
Of all their thoughts and their sensations
Will take leave.

Oh, but in case your evening’s hum and drum,
We hope your senses will be overcome.
Will you be swooning New Year’s,
New Year’s Eve?
Oh, will you be swooning New Year’s Eve? ♩ ♬


🍾 🥂 Happy Swoon Year! 🕛 🎉



Picture of Ella Fitzgerald in 1947 by William P. Gottlieb with vintage Times Square ball,
party hat, pink champagne coupe, and pink S streamers with confetti added.


What Blog Is This?

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Holidays


♪ ♫ What blog is this, which notices
When stuff is worthy of swooning?
The one that’s here to bring good cheer
With a carol that’s had some re-tuning.

This, this, our Christmas wish,
Is for a day that’s filled with bliss.
Haste, haste, no time to waste; 

The day has arrived to be merry.♩ ♬

Merry Christmas! Season’s Swoonings! 



My Lady Greensleeves by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is wearing an Anne Boleyn-style S necklace.


Pluff Piece

Author: Kirsten K., Coffee, Food & Drink, History, Hot Drinks, Tea

This date is steeped in history. Two hundred and forty-four years ago today, trouble was brewing in Boston Harbor as colonists, angry about the British Parliament’s recent tax on tea, boarded ships of the East India Company and tossed chests of imported tea into the water. To commemorate this act of defiance against taxation without representation, you can now host your own Boston Tea Party with American heritage teas from Oliver Pluff & Co.

A purveyor of historic beverages, Oliver Pluff offers Colonial teas and remedies, pressed tea bricks, coffee, toddy mixes, and other early American potables. I wrote about their cacao shell tea last year, which now comes in a mint mixture that is perfect for seasonal sipping. Also apt for the holidays are their wassail mulling blends for making spiced wine and cider.

Among a variety of themed collections is a Teas of the Boston Tea Party gift box, featuring five teas that were popular in 18th-century America. A favorite of colonists was Bohea, a blend of pekoe and souchong teas with a strong, smoky flavor that will have you yelling, “Boo-hee!”

Taxes are once again on everyone’s mind, so after you stand up to make your voice heard on the issue, sit down to enjoy a cup of Colonial coffee or tea and celebrate the freedom to participate in representative government. There’s still time to treat yourself or someone on your list to a taste of history this holiday season with a gift from Oliver Pluff.

Leaf and bean come to you, and to you your wassail too, and we bless you and send you a Happy New Year. Cheers! ☕

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Oliver Pluff & Co.


A Rose-Flavored Holiday Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

I did a crazy thing this year. I entered the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off. I never enter contests. I hate competition. I remember being in school and getting chosen last for sports teams. I hated sports. I still do. To this day, the only sport I can play with any kind of confidence is ping pong. But I always hated competition, because there has to be a loser. I know what it feels like to be chosen last, or not at all, and I don’t want anyone to feel that lonely feeling, so I have avoided competition my whole life.

A few weeks ago, I saw the ad for the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and thought, “I CAN DO THAT!” I have some recipes that are twists on classics! I have some skills! I can bring something unexpected, yet nostalgic, to the holiday table! So I entered. I entered with a cookie I have been making for many years: rose petal shortbread. I tweaked the decorations to add holiday-colored sugar and red rose petals so the cookies would have Christmas flair, and I entered with pride.

After hitting “submit,” I realized I would have to ask my friends to vote for me. The only thing worse than competition is asking everyone I know to do me a HUGE favor. I hemmed and hawed, I sweated, I wrung my hands, I whined to my husband Aaron, but I asked. And people responded. Not only did they vote for me—some every day—they shared my post on their own pages and sent me encouraging notes of support. I was blown away by the collective kindness.

Well, I did not win, but I’m totally OK with that. The fact is, the contest was more of a popularity vote than how good your cookie is. I still feel great about my recipe, which I think reflects the zeitgeist of what is happening in baking and is really delicious and easy to make. But most of all, I felt the holiday spirit in all of my friends who voted and reposted and encouraged me. I felt humbled by the friends of friends who voted and said they thought my recipe sounded amazing and they couldn’t wait to try it.

Of course, it would have been a fancy brag to have won (there wasn’t even a prize, just bragging rights), but I got what I needed out of the contest—I felt loved and supported by so many people, even people who don’t know me. I probably won’t be entering any more contests, but I’ll keep baking and I’ll keep sharing and I’ll keep appreciating my friends and family and my new friends of friends who believed in me enough to vote for a cookie they haven’t tasted, made by a gal some of them didn’t even know. You picked me first. And that means more to me than any bragging right.

Happy Holidays, Wonderful Friends!!

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Makes about 24 cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon rose extract*
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon crushed dried rose petals (optional)
2 cups all purpose flour

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
sparkling holiday sugar and fresh (organic, non-pesticide) torn rose petals for garnish (chopping makes them dark around the edges)

Combine butter and confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix until combined with no lumps, 2-3 minutes. Add the rose and vanilla extracts and the crushed rose petals (if using) and mix until incorporated. Add flour in two stages until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a gallon-size Ziploc bag, leaving a small hole at the top so air can escape, and roll out with a rolling pin until dough has fully and evenly filled the shape of the bag. Refrigerate on a flat surface at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment. Cut the sides of the Ziploc bag and peel back the top layer. Use a ruler and nick each side of the dough at 2-inch intervals with a pizza cutter or knife. Gently cut out your squares and transfer to parchment-lined cookie sheets. Use a fork to make traditional tine marks in the dough.

Put one cookie sheet in the refrigerator while the first batch bakes, 18-20 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end. You want the cookies very slightly browned at the edges only. Cool cookies completely on wire racks.

To make icing, combine confectioners’ sugar with milk and mix with a small whisk until smooth. To decorate, drizzle icing over cookies with a fork and, while icing is still wet, sprinkle with sparkling sugar and rose petals.


*Rose extract is available at many grocery stores and at Amazon.

Organic dried rose petals are available at Amazon or World Market (in the spice section).