How Bizarre – Eurodance Monday

Ok, so this week’s Eurodance Monday isn’t Euro. I swear I’m not looking to make this a long term trend! Like most posts this month, this is MasterChef related.

I’m not going to lie – pretty much every step of this little adventure has been completely bizarre to me. I still haven’t even wrapped my head around the idea that I – of ALL PEOPLE – had the thought “I should try out for a ‘reality’ show” even cross my mind, never mind stuck it all out to fruition. Hrmm, impulse control issues?

Anyway.

So, having gone through this whole thing, from decision to arriving in LA… all the way through the first few days of life in sequester? I was still sort of wondering if I was dreaming. I mean, I’m a very lucid dreamer – there were a few points where I was really second guessing my sleep status.

The night before the LA “auditions” started, I had a really surreal experience in the hotel lobby with a few other “contestants”. Like, I stood back from what was going on and actually thought to myself “Man, this feels like something that would air on a commercial for something trashy, like Jersey Shore. I’m so glad no one is filming!”. Reading that now, I’m not sure that I’m actually capable of describing how surreal the moment was. I actually considered the possibility that some of those involved were actors, and I was being punked. LOL!

Anyway.

So the next morning – with that still fresh in mind – we woke up, tried to get a quick bite to eat in our hotel room, and got dressed and ready for the day’s adventures. I headed out to the lobby, sat down, and IMMEDIATELY OMC’s “How Bizarre” came on over the hotel’s speakers. It was a lot like last Monday’s blog entry, life just providing the perfect soundtrack. In addition to seeming perfect for the bizarre reality I was living at the moment, it was bizarre in that I hadn’t heard the song in FOREVER – maybe not since I moved to the USA! – so the randomness really struck me.

Now, I’m sure most people don’t know the lyrics beyond the chorus (doesn’t EVERYONE know the chorus?), but I have to say, the song was appropriate on so many levels. Let me highlight a few key lines..

“Destination unknown, as we pull in for some gas, freshly pasted poster reveals a smile from the past”. (Ie: Luca from season 3)

and

“Ring master steps out and says “the elephants left town”, People jump and jive, but the clowns have stuck around. TV news and camera, there’s choppers in the sky”

That’s all I’m gonna say about that. HOW BIZARRE!

Paneer Burgers… or “Indian Cheeseburgers”

A while back, one of my prison buddies MasterChef friends – Duckie – posted a photo of her dinner on Facebook. While that in itself isn’t anything special – my FB news feed has been FLOODED with dinner pics, since coming home from this MC adventure – man, that photo was the stuff that dreams are made of. Well, most of her photos are – they always have everyone drooling – but this really stood out to me.

It was a burger that featured not a meat patty, but a big chunk of paneer that had been breaded with corn flakes! As she described it on her blog, Duckie’s Dine-asty:

“Paneer Burger! Fried paneer on a garlic roll with cabbage, carrot, and a sweet and spicy tamarind chutney…accompanied by sweet potato fries and curried ketchup!”

… I knew I’d have to do my own version, and SOON. The idea of just frying a big patty of paneer as a burger just seemed so hedonistic, it kind of made me giddy to think about it. I don’t usually get like that over something… vegetarian. LOL!

So, I thought about which direction I’d want to go with it. I decided that, rather than a cornflake breading, I’d go for a giant version of a paneer pakora. Rather than using my cilantro-mint chutney with it, I’d make a mayo based on that idea, for a creamier texture. Then, to top it off, a mess of quick pickled veggies for some color, brightness, and acidity!

YES. It was every bit as awesome as it looks. My husband claims “I could eat that again and again!”, and that it ranks right up there with my Apple Chicken Burgers with Basil and Gouda. Given how completely buts he is about THOSE.. that’s saying something!

So freaking good. Yum!

You can also see Duckie’s work on her brand new Facebook page, Duckie’s Dine-asty”.

Duckie is ALL kinds of awesome, even beyond her cooking. She was one of the first people I met in LA, very friendly, outgoing, hilarious, and .. inclusive. On a personal note – she even publicly ripped a bully a new one on my behalf! I mean… in a spectacular fashion. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone do that for me. This whole thing has been filled with unique experiences for me, but I digress – Duckie is awesome. That is all. 🙂

Paneer Burgers with Quick Pickle and Cilantro-Mint Mayo
(Makes two big burgers)

1/3 cup mayo
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 – 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced on a long diagonal
1 small carrot, peeled
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Oil, for deep frying
1/2 cups garbanzo (chickpea) flour
2 Tbsp cup rice flour
1 1/2 tsp hot curry powder
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
pinch tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup water
12 oz brick of paneer, room temperature
1/4 cup additional garbanzo flour

2 burger buns of choice

Mix together mayo, cilantro, and mint. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Place sliced peppers and green onions into a bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, peel long strips of carrot into the same bowl, until you have as much carrot as you would like (I used about as much carrot as I did red pepper). Whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt. Pour over the vegetables, tossing to coat well. Cover and set aside.

Start heating your oil to 375F – you’ll want at least 2-3″ of oil in your pot or deep fryer.

In a large bowl, combine flours, spices, salt, baking powder, and cilantro. Add water, stir well to form a thick batter. All batter to sit for 5 minutes or so, to soften the bean flour.

Slice your paneer into two “patties”. Sizing will depend on what shape your paneer loaf is in – we got two square patties, and a couple of extra sticks as a “side”. Toss patties with additional garbanzo flour, then dredge in the batter.

Carefully transfer paneer patties to the preheated oil. Fry for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. Use a slotted metal spoon to transfer fried paneer to paper towels.

To construct the burgers:

Split the buns, toasting if desired. Spread cilantro-mint mayo on bottom half of each bun. Top with burger, and a generous helping of quick pickled veggies. Crown with top bun, enjoy!

MasterChef Dreams

Being a wedding industry veteran, I’m well aware of how working towards a big, stressful situation brings out the WEIRD in our dreams. Whether from brides or vendors, I’ve heard every sort of bizarre pre-wedding dream you could imagine!

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started having some weird dreams before flying out to LA for MasterChef… or while I was IN LA for taping… or when I came back.

*****

The Sushi Dream

Now, for the most part, pre-LA dreaming was strictly for problem solving/creating time. I’m a very lucid sleeper, and generally use sleep time to work through problems, create lists of what to do / how to do it, etc. (Those that wonder how I work so fast… now you know!). Most of that was pretty run of the mill… I’d go to bed thinking of fish, for instance, and would wake up with a ton of ideas to add to my study book.

1 week before leaving for the show, however, one of those “create” dreams turned out spectacular: It was a dream about competing on a sushi challenge on the show, and I was WAY ahead of everyone. I had some leftover salmon and decided to do something unique to add to my plate.

You know sushi art, like the stuff found at this link? I decided – mid challenge – that THIS was the time to attempt something like that, so I thinly sliced the salmon, wrapped it in nori and rice, and made a set of MasterChef logo sushi. Won the challenge.

I woke up thinking it out, and thought “you know… that could actually work. If given the opportunity, I think I WILL do that!”. Two of my “Aspie Superpowers” are being able to easily figure out how *anything* is made… and being able to easily reproduce something after seeing it demonstrated only once. Amazingly, these also apply to myself, as seen in my own dreams, LOL!

Porter and I differed on how I should go about doing it. He thought I should practice it ahead of time, I thought that I should NOT, because that first time happening in a challenge? That’d be MAGICAL!

Well, I ended up making sushi rice minutes after waking up that morning, and by 7 am – and on the first try – I had a batch of beautiful MasterChef logo sushi!


My first and only ever attempt at art sushi!

I’d elected to color some of the rice, as we didn’t exactly have sushi grade salmon laying around! It all went very smoothly, like I’d done it 100 times before. I’ve been meaning to get more into art sushi, but that logo sushi roll is still the one and ONLY time I’ve ever done art sushi!

*****

The “Taking Things Literally” Dream

This was a few days before I left for LA… It was another competition dream, and we were making pastries for some bigshot food writer. He was using all sorts of words that were painfully awkward for him, basically coming off as a desperate attempt to sound smarter than he was. (Common with food writers, I hate to say.)

So he goes to taste mine, and whines that he was hoping for it to be more “unctuous”. I don’t remember what I had made, but it was something where “unctuous” would be totally inappropriate.

So I dropped my jaw and asked him if he was serious, he wanted “unctuous”, and he confirmed… so I dumped like a cup of vegetable oil over it. We both stared at each other, completely confused, and then I said “Um… maybe that word doesn’t mean what you think it means”.

I told a couple friends about it, and was told in NO uncertain terms that if anything similar came to pass while competing, I MUST respond that way. I agreed 🙂

*****

The “Roommate from Hell” Dream

I actually wrote this out in a notebook while still in LA. Let me just type that entry out:

“Day 2 in LA. Woke up at 4am from a stress dream. Well, that’s not entirely true, I woke up at 1, then 3ish, then gave up at 4. Anyway, stress dream:

Dreamed that someone told me the name of my roomie, then acted shocked when I didn’t recognize the name. She hadn’t yet arrived, so this person whipped out their phone so I could google it… I guess so I could see for myself.

She was famous for being a very rich, very VERY right wing socialite. I’m talking like a young Ann Coulter … Canadian-hating and all! She was the daughter of a politician, and a beauty queen from some politically-oriented pageant. I don’t remember the full name of the pageant title, but it involved “Confederacy” in the title, and had the rebel flag stitched on to her sash. WTF?”

… that was the day my roomie was due to arrive. I’m happy to be able to say she was nothing like what my mind had conjured up. She was kinda nuts, for sure… but in the fun, TOTALLY acceptable way that the vast majority of my friends are!


Alexandra & Elden McFeron

*****

I must say, I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t alone in this! Here are a few weird dreams from my fellow contestants.

Speaking of my roomie, Alexandra Jones had a dream of her own:

“I had a dream I had to shop at home depot with Gordon because we had to replace a piece of the set. He was in a three piece suit and I had to wear a “MasterChef Snuggi”. He started to get angry with me because we couldn’t find anything we needed and just kept walking in a circle. Eventually, we left and went to this pub by my house in Portland and had a few pints.

Then Joe and Graham showed up and the three of them left… and left me to pay for the beer…and it wasn’t even happy hour! ”


Matt Orsini
From Matt Orsini:

“This dream happened before I left for LA…

All the top 100 was at the hotel and it was my morning to cook. They told me to get dressed and all I remember is getting all the way to set and right before I was cued to cook I looked down and had absolutely nothing on!

Before I knew it, Gordon walked out and told me to fuck off so I ran back to the hotel to get dressed knowing that this was do or die for me. I was so embarassed and all the contestants were laughing at me.

By the time I got back to the set I had all three judges waiting for me and they told me that regardless of what I was going to cook it was going to be a no! I was pissed off and that’s the last thing I remembered. In my dream I was so frustrated!

It was an awful dream. I woke up sweating after it, I thought it was real!”

From Christine Kim:

“I had a crazy dream before I knew I got accepted to top 100.

In the dream, I was hanging with my friends. Then a MC lady appeared out of nowhere and said to me, “Congratulations! You have been accepted in the top 100 of Masterchef! You have an hour to shop for your ingredients in this store, and to prepare you food for the judges. Good luck!”

So I was like “Holy shit what?” And I ran to the grocery store, and I had no idea what to make, and I had no idea what was in this grocery store. So I bought a bunch of random ingredients that I knew how to use and then I woke up really nervous and stressed because of my limited time to prepare.

It turns out that we shopped at a Ralphs that looked EXACTLY like the one in my dream, aisles and everything. I have this thing, where my dreams give me MAJOR Deja Vu, more often than not.”


Christine Kim! (Photo courtesy of Christine)

… Just a handful of the crazy dreams we had!

Are you a past or current MasterChef contestant? Would LOVE to hear what kind of crazy dreams you had about the experience – post a comment below!

Cocktail Recipe: The “Drinking in LA”!

So, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, I ended up creating a cocktail while out in LA, “competing” on MasterChef. Well, more accurately, I created it while being holed up in my hotel room!

Anyway, a few days after arriving, we were allowed to go to a nearby mall… it was like getting sprung from jail! We were allowed to roam free for a couple hours, no babysitters, no need to ask permission to go to the washroom. It was kind of awesome, even if I hate malls. FREEDOM!

You know what else is awesome? The fact that you can buy booze at Target in LA.

Now, I’ve seen booze for sale in grocery stores before – in Chicago. Wish it could be that way here in MN, but apparently buying booze on a Sunday means you’re going to hell, soo… yeah. Anyway, seeing booze on a random endcap in a Target was just so novel, I had to giggle. Then, I HAD to buy something, just to say I did.

I settled on a bottle of Malibu. It seemed appropriate, between all the palm trees everywhere, and the general atmosphere of the whole experience. I imagine that this is what college feels like (I wouldn’t know!), and to me, Malibu = young drinking, haha!

I’d already had some UV Pink Lemonade Vodka in the hotel room from an earlier grocery store run, along with various mixers and everyday drinks. Sure, there was a hotel bar, but I am cheap.. AND a poor tornado victim, so was not going to be paying hotel cocktail prices. Best to plan ahead! Let’s be clear – there was a LOT of drinking happening out there. I’ll never look at a hotel room disposable coffee mug – or boxes of wine – the same way again.

As you already know, I like my drinks to basically be “diabetes in a glass”. Sweet, fruity, and fairly girly… and the Drinking in LA certainly fits the bill. It’ll also sneak up on you, so be careful. Very easy to get thoroughly trashed on this, without even realizing it. Just the other day, my LA roomie asked me if I had slipped MDMA into our drinks, LOL!

Anyway, in honor of my MasterChef experience, I am eschewing our typical professionally styled drink photography setup – and proper glasses – to show the cocktail in its original form. Sure, there were the small rocks glasses available in our hotel rooms… but the disposable coffee mugs afforded us portability. Not only were we able to bring our paper cups out to the pool area (no glass allowed, naturally)… but we could put the plastic lids on and proceed to drink our asses off in the main hotel lobby – even in the bar area – undetected!

A neat trick, and something to keep in mind for conventions, haha! I have no idea why this never occurred to me before.

Drinking in LA

2 oz Malibu Rum liqueur
1 oz Pink Lemonade vodka
2 oz Limeade
2 oz Sierra Mist

Measure ingredients into a shaker*. Add a handful of ice, shake a few times, strain into disposable coffee cup.

*Or, if you’re away on a reality show and sequestered without proper bar equipment: skip the shaker, skip the ice. Pour everything into your coffee cup without TOO much regard for measurements, swirl it a little and you should be good!

Ok, hubby won’t let me get away with NOT posting a proper drink photo…

Interested in boozy culinary experiments? You’ll LOVE my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker!

Combining liqueurs with more traditional baking ingredients can yield spectacular results.Try Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, Candy Apple Flan, Jalapeno Beer Peanut Brittle, Lynchburg Lemonade Cupcakes, Pina Colada Rum Cake, Strawberry Daiquiri Chiffon Pie, and so much more.

To further add to your creative possibilities, the first chapter teaches how to infuse spirits to make both basic and cream liqueurs, as well as home made flavor extracts! This book contains over 160 easy to make recipes, with variation suggestions to help create hundreds more! Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

The MasterChef Playlist – Eurodance Mondays

So, we’re doing something a little different for this week’s Eurodance Monday. Rather than featuring one song, I’m featuring a list of them.

This is actually a playlist that I’d assembled for my whole MasterChef experience. I had this playing as I trained, I had it on my ipod as I traveled to LA, and I listened to it to both chill out AND get pumped up each morning that I was there.

… Well, to be more accurate, I used my Ipod to try and tune out the insane amounts of noise as we were herded like cattle and kept in fairly closed off areas (with HORRIBLE acoustics!) for hours on end. Holy crap, it was aspie hell! Being able to sit off in a corner, put the earphones in, close my eyes and tune out the sensory overload a bit was a lifesaver!

Anyway, most of these are songs that I’ve profiled on Eurodance Mondays before, for good reason – they’re timeless, and guaranteed to do the job! Links included to each writeup, where applicable:

1: Drinking in LA – Bran Van 3000 (Previous Writeup!)

2: Take Me Up – Amadin (Previous Writeup!)

3: Overload – Voodoo & Serano (Previous Writeup!)

4: Set the World on Fire – E-Type

5: Let the Dream Come True – DJ Bobo (Previous Writeup!)

6: Take Your Chance – Fun Factory (Previous Writeup!)

7: Dreams – 2 Brothers on the 4th Floor (Previous Writeup!)

8: Lucky in my Life – Eiffel 65

9: Here I Go Again – E-Type

10: No Limit – 2 Unlimited (Previous Writeup!)

11: Hold your Horses – E-Type

12: Hang on, Here We Go – Jet Fuel

13: Olympia * – E-Type

As my trip to LA got closer and closer, “Olympia” got more and more difficult and emotional to listen to… managing to surpass “Drinking in LA” as my official theme song for the whole adventure.

The day of my audition, I had it stuck in my head ALL day… and when I was next in line to cook, it had me pumped. I was able to actually say the lyrics to my husband…

“This is it, now the time has come for us and we’re heading for the future – set sail, we’re all go!” and “It’s time for us to make it all come true. We will go for gold and bring it home for you. Give it all and show when we can do, we will go for gold and glory all for you…”

And the really funny thing? I pulled together this list before I left, and yeah, it’s heavy on the E-Type. What can I say, I like what I like…

Anyway, one of the contestants happened to be a Swedish composer… who has apparently worked with E-Type!

Awesome!

My Training & Preparation for MasterChef

Deciding to compete on a “reality” TV show was a major decision for me. Like I’ve mentioned, it was an act of desperation, a last ditch effort to make a go of my current career path, potentially get ourselves out of tornado debt, etc. If I was going to do this, I would be doing it RIGHT.

So, from early on in the audition process, preparing myself for the show became more and more of a full time job for me – 4 months worth, leading up to the filming. By the end of the first month in … I lived, slept, ate, and breathed Master Chef.

Marathon Viewing

As I’d never seen the show before, the casting producer strongly encouraged me to watch the entirety of season 3. So I did… and then I watched seasons 1 and 2, taking notes on EVERYTHING. Finally, I watched season 3 again, to gain a better understanding of the overall arc of the series, to help assess what direction(s) they could potentially be going with the season I would be competing on.

It was an interesting progression, and one that disturbed me a little. By watching the judges’ faces throughout the series, I could tell that they were lying more to/about the contestant entries as the series progressed over the 3 previous years. (I studied faces to help get by with my Aspergers years ago, and am excellent at identifying micro expressions – when I WANT to -yay me!), Also, there was definitely an increase in the forced drama – this worried me, so I braced myself for it. Always better to have an idea of what to prepare for, right?

Mentally, I prepared myself for everything right up to the possibility that they would end up housing the contestants together and air footage of the “behind the scenes” crap, “Big Brother” / “The Glass House” style, this year. I looked at it as an absolute worst case scenario, but really… I can survive anything for a finite amount of time, especially if I have time to consider/prepare for the possibility ahead of time.

Gathering Intel

After watching the previous three seasons of the show, I had a good idea of which contestants I could identify with in some way, and which would be most likely to write about their experiences. Starting with them, I poured over their blog entries, tweets, etc – from around my estimation of when they started the casting process, right through to current day.

I learned a lot about what to expect from the whole thing, from arriving at the airport, to the recurring theme that food would be scarce while filming (and I should have paid WAY more attention to that one!). From random bits of information across several seasons – and many contestants – I pieced together a bit of an image of what life would be like. I knew that – barring any major changes – I’d be set up in a hotel with a single roommate. I knew that the show liked to screw with the contestants, pulling crap like middle of the night “pack your bags NOW, we’re moving to another hotel!” drills. I knew that those who received aprons would spend a lot of time in cooking classes, though that was never really shown on the air. I learned more about what the judges (stated that they) were looking for, about strengths and weaknesses, and more.

I looked up the grocery stores that we would be going to for our daily supplies and food to cook at the auditions: Ralph’s and Whole Foods. I learned that Ralph’s had a rewards card, so I registered for it … receiving it JUST in time to leave for LA! Boy, am I ever glad I did – saved me a ton of money, and the extra cards that came with it were handy to pass out to my new friends, aiding them as well. The truck I was in saved almost $100 on the first day!

Cooking

Now, I like to think I’m a pretty good cook, but I know that there is always room for improvement. Also, I realized that there were certain basics that I just never really got into for whatever reason. For example, I’m not big on eggs, so I’ve never bothered to learn how to poach them. I’m horrible at making pancakes. I’d never made risotto, or fresh pasta, and those were really common things in the show.

So, we bought a pasta maker, and I quickly taught myself not only the basics, but all sorts of different flavors and techniques. We LIVED on risotto. OMG, if I never see risotto again…

It was a lot of work – and CARBS! – but I knew there was no way I would (legitimately) get eliminated on either pasta or risotto! Beyond that, I trained to the point where I could do pretty much any type of egg from memory, possibly with my eyes closed. I became a finely tuned MACHINE in the kitchen! Muahaha!

Souffle!

When the show told me that I would be making my Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake as my “audition” dish, I had a little work to do there, as well. I had to tweak the sizing – 1 hour is not enough time to prepare and bake it, start to finish. So, I time trialled a few sizes, and finally settled on making 6″ cakes. Then, on the advice of a friend, I took my ingredients to a friend’s house (I’d never cooked in his kitchen, was good to get ‘in a foreign space’ experience!) and baked a batch, start to finish… wearing the outfit I had planned for my audition (more on that later!), hair done, makeup done, and with my husband harassing me with questions as I worked. I managed to get it all done and plated within the hour, and it turned out perfectly – I was ready!

Studying

Beyond actual in-kitchen training, I studied my ass off:

– I researched different cuisines, memorizing flavor profiles and base recipes for many popular ethnic dishes.

– I researched the availability of various animal proteins, how to prepare and cook them, etc. I learned stuff like “you have to cook bear well done, because of possible trichinosis”. I learned which meats should never be cooked well done, what seasonings work best with what, etc. I now know how to prepare every variety of domestic, game, and exotic animal available in the USA – including snake. If they were legally able to obtain it (by purchase or by hunting), I had a plan for how I would prepare it. I know how many regular eggs that emu and ostrich eggs are equivalent to (10-12 and 24 eggs, respectively!), and what I’d do if given one.

– All of that previous paragraph? Did it for fish and seafood, as well. I am completely blown away by the variety of fish available for sale in this country, btw. I’d never heard of HALF of what I came across!

– Watched many videos to learn about fileting different types of fish and butchering different types of meat. Thanked my lucky stars that I have the ability to watch something done once, and be able to do it. (One of my “Aspie Superpowers”!)

– Memorized cook time/temperature charts for all of the basic poultry / roast/ etc options.

– Researched and memorized all of the “Mother” sauces AND major variants of each.

– I gathered and memorized all of my base recipes for things like biscuits, fish and chip batter, doughboys, pastry cream, panna cotta, choux dough, sushi rice, pakora batter, etc.

– I spent a lot of time thinking of individual ingredients, and what I would be doing if they came up as mystery box challenges, etc. I have a LONG list of cool ideas I came up with – you can expect to see them on this blog, eventually 🙂

Business as Usual?

In addition to all of the cooking and studying, I had to prepare for my husband to take over my business while I would be away. Starting out, I thought this would be no big deal… but wow, it really ended up involved!

– I wrote and set up 3 months worth of blog entries to auto post to my site, and then set up for auto posts to Facebook and Twitter. Seriously. THREE MONTHS! Wonder why I went from sporadic blogging to being super diligent about following a schedule? Now you know!

– I had to gather the login information for EVERYTHING. My merchant account, my publisher (and how to order more stock!), bank accounts, the company I order mailing envelopes from (and write down which products I buy!). Each of my email addresses, all of my social media, the blog, the web host… every time I thought I was done, I’d think of two other things to document for him!

– Had to create a daily to do list, with references to details on some of the items. I’d never actually thought about what all I do, it seems basic habit now… but man, it’s a whole ordeal to get it together for someone else. ESPECIALLY knowing that person will not have the ability to ask questions – there would be no contact once I arrived in LA, from everything I read!

– As I was under contract with Minnesota Historical Society Press for “Sweet Corn Spectacular“, I had to step up my work on that, with now-shortened deadlines. In addition to that, I had a couple of other books slated to come out in and around the time I’d be gone.. again, lots of work to do on a much shorter schedule!

– Being in Mensa, – and a part of some really tightly knit social groups with the organization – I knew that “disappearing” would be very difficult to do. Stephanie had recently “gone on sabbatical” and shut down her social media in order to be on the Glass House, so I knew that anything I did would make everyone suspicious. How do you fool a shitton of really (excessively?) smart close friends?

I weighed the options and eventually decided that a “no social media” new years resolution would be the way to go. Everyone knew I was frustrated and stressed out by all of the hatred and violence in the media, so I knew it wouldn’t be hard to believe. Hell, by the time New Year’s rolled around, I think I was ready to take a social media break even if NOT for MasterChef!

Making Myself Presentable

I knew going in to this that it was not necessarily merit based, and not all about the cooking. From everything I’d read (and really, simple logic)… this was about being marketable as a winner. As a fat, homely, blue haired curmudgeon? No small obstacle!

– I hit the gym.

– I bought Spanx for the first time in my life. OMG, torture! (Oh, and they really weren’t fun when we had only the teeniest hit-your-knees-on-the-door porta potties during filming!)

– I made a very flattering “audition” shirt. It fit well, made me feel good… and was based on the “Hunger Games” training shirt. YES. If I was going to do something this crazy, I was going to have some fun and be able to laugh at the irony / make a bit of a statement, right? 🙂

– Per their request, I made a special apron for my “audition”. I don’t wear aprons, ever… but they wanted something that showed some personality, whatever… so I made a bright turquoise PVC snakeskin print/texture apron. Awesome!

– I practiced talking and cooking on camera, with and without being asked questions. Very awkward, as someone who’s not big on having a camera aimed her way!

– I went to my friend Holly – a talented makeup artist – to get a crash course on makeup. I don’t know anything about it, I don’t usually wear the stuff. She was great, teaching me about contouring, products I’d never heard of, etc. She sent me off with a better idea of what I was doing, some samples, a diagram AND an order of operations list!

– As an “all ponytail/bun, all the time” kinda person (yes, scrunchie too!)… I decided that I should probably actually learn how to do my own hair. I cruised some braiding websites, and quickly learned how to do a few styles. I also scoured the ‘net for some inspiration hairstyle photos and compiled them into a printed book to bring with me, figuring I’d figure them out as needed.


Left: Getting weird with it …. Right: “Help me Gordon Ramsay, you are my only hope!”

– I had my teeth bleached. Saw a Groupon for a crazy deal on Zoom whitening… OMG sensory torture. The whole time I sat there with my face all jacked up, waves of pain shooting into my face… all I could think about was competing on the show. Eyes on the prize!

– On the subject of sensory torture, I knew that going on this “adventure” would rank right up there as one of the dumbest things I could possibly do, with regards to my sensory issues. Not wanting to have any meltdowns on TV (And not knowing at the time that the show would actively try to induce them… assholes!), I decided to “train” in a new, completely masochistic way:

… I went to the Mall of America, on Christmas eve. I can’t stand that place on the best of days, and absolutely refuse to enter it between October 1 – January 1. Going on Christmas Eve? Insane. I did it with a purpose though – I went in there knowing that it would be absolute sensory overload, to practice blocking it out, managing the stress, etc. Proud to say that I made it a few hours without losing it! Could have gone longer, too… but it all got to my husband first!

Shopping

Man, the amount of shopping we had to do to get ready for this whole thing was insane – we hemorrhaged money over this, crossing our fingers the whole time that this would be a good investment, and a smart risk to take.

You see, I don’t have much of a wardrobe. I’m an author! I really do fit the stereotype of just working in my PJs every day. I don’t like wearing jeans, as they never seem to fit, so I have yoga pants. The rest of my wardrobe is made up of well loved ThinkGeek / Misc geek shirts. I had one pair of runners, and they’re pretty ratty.

New jeans. All new shirts, which had to fit the “reality show standards” – no words, no logos, no artwork, no white shirts, no black shirts (WHAAAAT!?), etc. We scoured thrift shops to come up with an affordable, attractive (read: blues, teals, turquoise) wardrobe of TV suitable shirts. New runners, as we knew I’d be on my feet a lot. Those damn dreaded Spanx. Toiletries for 3 months (That was NOT fun to figure out, btw)…

Accessories! I picked up a few sets of simple earrings and a couple of necklaces. New for me, I am not usually a jewelry person. (See “spending all day in my PJs” comment above!)


It was very important to me to ‘Wear my Canadianism on my sleeve”… or around my neck!

My friend Lauren, of Style in Abundance sent me some GORGEOUS custom necklaces to wear (Go check out her stuff!)


Photos don’t do justice to Lauren’s work… these are GORGEOUS!

I picked up a burner phone, as I had to leave my smart phone at home so my husband could run the business.

Thinking ahead to the logistics at the hotel, I bought this laundry hamper at IKEA. DEFINITELY recommend it to anyone entering into a similar situation, for what it’s worth. Fit easily in my suitcase (the coil structure collapses down flat, and is held flat with Velcro straps!), and allowed me to keep my dirty clothes separate and relatively organized!

Waiting

Ok, so waiting didn’t seem like training at the time, but after the rush of making sure I had EVERYTHING planned for… there was a lot of waiting. In hindsight, I guess it was good practice for being in LA and having to deal with people who had a tenuous grasp on logistics – at best. There was a LOT of “hurry up and wait”.. “Be in the hotel lobby by 7am!”… only to not actually be leaving till 10 am or later. That kind of mind blowingly frustrating thing.

It only got worse after getting home, when it became obvious that the logistics issue wasn’t just isolated to the people dealing with us on the ground there!

So, I did things like … watch “The Hunger Games”. I figured – death and such aside – it was probably a fairly accurate representation of what I was about to walk into…. and I was right!

Oh, and finally… I made a super cute travel/toiletry bag set for the trip. I had so much STUFF to organize, this came in handy. One bag for hair dye, bleach, gloves, etc… another for accessories, another for hair accessories, another for ALL my makeup, a smaller one for “day of” makeup in my purse, etc.


The bright print on these make me so happy!

So… more on the MasterChef adventure another day!

I Like It – Eurodance Monday

Have you ever had one of those moments in your life… when there is music playing that is SO suited to whatever is going on, that it seems like something out of a movie? That life is providing this perfect soundtrack for you?

I had one of those experiences shortly after landing in LA for my MasterChef adventure. Not really Eurodance, but hey.. it’s dancey, and fits in with my “MasterChef” theme this month!

We’d just arrived at the airport – myself and a few people who were ALMOST complete strangers, for the most part. I hadn’t really given a ton of conscious thought to what LA would be like … but when I arrived, I realized that reality was not matching up with what my subconscious had apparently had in mind.

Things were so grey! The airport was kinda dowdy, the people weren’t smiling… I guess I’d been picturing sunshine, colour, beautiful people everywhere. I don’t know if it was just the terminal that our flight landed in or what, but this looked like any other airport (just maybe a bit more “blah” than most!). The weather outside was blah and grey, and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Things just didn’t seem as exotic as I’d expected!

So anyway, we get on the hotel shuttle and head off. The driver turned on the music, and it was Enrique Iglesias’ “I Like It”. I hadn’t heard the song for a while, at that point… I don’t know, it was kind of a surreal moment. Like the grey sort of faded, the exhaustion from a long day of travel sort of fell to the side, and here was the universe kind of pumping us up for what was to come, you know?

It actually reminded me of another such experience, almost two decades before. I was on a precision (synchronized, now) figure skating team, and we’d just made the long drive to a competition in the US… Minot, Brainerd, Bloomington – I don’t remember, but it was a LONG bus ride for us, at the end of a school day in Winnipeg!

So we pulled up to the hotel and the coaches go in to get us registered. Someone turned on the radio, and Bryan Adam’s “Summer of 69” came on. Same refreshing, energizing, soul-perking up experience.

Not only was “I Like it” perfect for the moment in its own right, bringing up that memory – from an earlier competition experience away from home – was just so well timed and NEEDED… it really stuck in my mind. Much like the skating competition memory still comes to mind even 20 years later, I’m sure I’ll be remembering my LA shuttle ride experience 20 years from now. It seems like such a silly thing to really hit me, from the whole experience.. but it was perfect.

… and now, as I type up this blog entry, I remember that the video for the song featured Jersey Shore. Given the circumstances that Inspired me to go down this road in the first place… man, I love the irony! The universe seems to have quite the sense of humour sometimes!

What the Hell am I Doing, Drinking in LA?

“I know that life is for the taking, so I better wise up, and take it quick.” – Bran Van 3000

I have had some pretty crazy adventures, done some crazy things in my lifetime.

– I had my own custom wedding gowns featured in a major regional wedding show at the age of 18.

– I packed up my car and moved across the country (to a province I knew NOTHING about) on a whim at the age of 18.

– I proved doctors wrong (“You’ll never walk properly again”) after a car accident wrecked me, eventually going on to figure skate again.

– I’ve been snuggled up with a Playgirl model, keeping his half naked body warm under my cloak on a cold, rainy March swimwear shoot in a broken down old barn. (On another occasion, I’ve waded barefoot into a VERY cold, partially frozen lake Ontario to fish a photographer’s reflector out during an early february photoshoot for my ready to SWIMWEAR line!)

– I picked up and moved to a foreign country and married a guy I’d only known a few months (5 before the move, 6 before the marriage!)

– I created a product with the specific intent of having it sold on ThinkGeek … and they picked it up! (Since discontinued).

– I’ve watched Klingons cut one of my cakes – a 4′ Bird of Prey – with Batleths, and I’ve made a TARDIS cake for Wil Wheaton.

– I convinced my husband that we should buy the first house that caught my eye in an ad… and then we battled massive stress and repairs after it was destroyed by a tornado just a few short months later!

– I designed and created a gorgeous Neopets inspired gown in just 4 days as a gift to someone I’d never met, on the other end of the country. This brought together almost 30 other people, who donated cash (to buy fabric) and goods to make Homecoming VERY special for one teenage Aspie.

… the list goes on. Yep, life has taken me on some pretty weird paths.

This spring, the list grew. I did the wildest, most insane, LEAST “me” thing ever – I went and competed a major reality TV show.

Those of you who know me well, go ahead and pick yourselves up off the floor now.

Yes, I am one of the 100 people presenting our signature dishes to Gordon Ramsay when MasterChef Season 4 debuts on May 22. It was a completely bizarre and traumatizing experience, and I came out of it with ton of VERY diverse new friends! More about friends and trauma in coming posts.

Anyway. You’re probably wondering “WTF?!” … and I have to admit, so am I – still! – to a degree. So, let me explain.

Money has been awfully tight since the tornado. We hemorrhagged money over the repairs – we blew past our insurance coverage by over $60,000 instantly, and we’re *STILL* working to fix everything. We took out a mortgage, have a disaster loan, and are generally overextended in every direction – definitely NOT the debt load we had anticipated when we bought the house just a few months before the tornado.

When you’re that over extended, it forces you to take a good hard look at what you’re doing.

Now, my cookbooks are great – you should totally buy them! – but the cookbook market is super saturated. I’m not getting rich off them by any means. I certainly don’t have any advertising budget to help that along, so I have to rely on social media and word of mouth, for the most part – doesn’t exactly pay the bills. The sewing manuals bring in a bit more money, but again… no advertising budget, PLUS we’re talking about extremely small, niche markets – I’m not even making minimum wage, at this point. Couple all of that, with the fact that I’m completely unemployable? Ugh.

So one day I was trying to think my way out of this financial pickle, and I noticed a tweet about how that Snooki idiot is a TWO TIME New York Times BESTSELLING AUTHOR. Can’t find any reference to it now, but at the time… man, it broke me. I really, truly weep for humanity.

Anyway, within minutes of THAT, someone forwarded me a link to a casting announcement for MasterChef, telling me that I should try out. I’d never heard of it (I can’t stand reality TV, and don’t watch cooking shows!), but it was going to be casting here in Minneapolis. I looked at my finances, I looked at my unemployability, and I looked at that stupid tweet about stupid Snooki, and in that moment, I sighed and resigned myself to “if you can’t beat them, join them”.


My audition video… kinda dorky, I know!

I put on a brave (and somewhat social!) face, and sailed through the initial audition. In the months that followed, there were many more interviews, requirements to be filled, dozens upon dozens of contract pages to be read and signed… and SO much preparations to be made.


Can you find me in this screen cap?

All the while, I looked at this as being a last ditch effort at making a go of the cookbooks. That maybe I could build enough of a name for myself – that when people see what I can do – that I’d be able to compete against the massively flooded cookbook market and earn a living at it. That if that didn’t come to pass, I’d face the facts and move on to some other line of work, rather than continue to tread water.

So, you see… this was a business decision, and a matter of “desperate times call for desperate measures”. I still think that “reality” TV is the bane of society, and I know that a lot of you guys feel the same way. I just really hope that I haven’t disappointed you by going down this path!

For what it’s worth, I conducted myself with honor the entire time. I did not have drama with anyone at all while I was out there, and told the producers from day one that I would NOT be engaging in such antics. Hell, I even had a plan – before I even arrived in LA – on how I’d deal with the inevitable “who do you think will be next to get eliminated?” drama induction questioning.

…. I’d look around for someone dressed appropriately, and single them out. When asked for clarification, I’d say they’d be next to go, as they were wearing a red shirt! LOL! I was VERY determined to not embarrass myself, the autism community, or my homeland – Canada!


New Friends!

Anyway.

In the months leading up to the show, I went from being resigned to doing this as a huge personal sacrifice (I was dreading it!) that needed to be done, to kind of looking forward to it. At some point along the wait, I actually started being excited for it, and couldn’t wait to leave for LA. I started to look at it as a chance to… how do I put this?

When I was in my teens, I took up speed skating as a way to cross train for figure and roller skating. I enjoyed it, and it was good to finally have a use for my massive quads. Anyway, I had the opportunity to represent my province at the Canada Winter Games – kind of a mini Olympics experience for youth back home. You get team uniforms, live in an “Olympic Village” type setup, and compete. Would have been awesome, but I missed it by ONE SPOT.

(To add insult to injury, I’d slipped, fell, and got passed by the figure skater that *I* had encouraged to join me in speed skating… and had to listen to her stories from the games forEVER after she got back!)

So, to me, this was going to be like having a second chance at that… I’d be flying to somewhere I’d never been, given a roomie, and be holed up in a sequestered situation with a bunch of strangers that I’d be “competing” with. I LOOOOOOVE competing. Love it!

So, I started to look at it less like “I’m selling my soul and going on ‘REALITY’ TV!” , and more like I was getting ready for a competition. It awakened that part of me that’s been dormant since I had to stop skating, and … I liked it. I really missed competing, and I prepared for and trained for going to compete on MasterChef like I was training for the actual Olympics. It became a full time job for me.

I could go off on a million tangents, at this point – SO much has happened since the day that I decided to try out. It feels like a lifetime ago…

Anyway, for the next while, there’s going to be a fairly heavy amount of MasterChef content on here, so I’m sure I’ll cover everything eventually. I may not be able to say how I – or anyone else – fared on the show, but I can share this: I’m happy to say that I finally did fulfill a minor “bucket list” item I’ve had for a long time!

As soon as I was told that I was going to LA, I automatically adopted “Drinking in LA” as my theme song for the whole adventure. I’m Canadian. You say “LA” to a Canadian of my age, there’s a good chance they’re going to get it as an earworm. You couple “LA” with some pretty heavy feelings of “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!”, and… yep. Perfect theme song.

I am proud to say that I finally had the chance to drink in LA. I even designed a cocktail named for it … will blog it eventually! I may not have been 26 when it happened, but hey… it was a once in a lifetime adventure.

More later!

In the meantime, now that Fox has finally released the cast list… Click here to view my MasterChef USA Season 4 cast directory. It includes the 5 names left off the Fox release (???), plus a ton of blog, website, and social media links!