I've had a blepharospasm for the past fortnight now. That's right, look it up. Lack of sleep is the usual cause, but ocular twitching is also triggered by stress. And what did I have to be stressed about?
Well, you know how I've spent a lot of the past year taking the mick out of MasterChef? Especially the beautifully be-cardiganed Toadie and the remarkable Mr Egg?
So, the other day, the lovely people at Miele invited me to the BBC Good Food Summer Show at the Birmingham NEC where they just happened to be sponsoring the MasterChef Experience.
And they said "Would you like to take part in the Invention Test?" And I replied "Sure, why not?" as my brain temporarily disconnected from my typing fingers. Because John and Gregg were going to be there and god's honest truth is - I'm a little bit afraid of them.
Scratch that, I'm a lot afraid of them. Like a naughty schoolgirl playing Knock Down Ginger, I've been happy to tease unseen, but heaven forbid they actually catch me. To add insult to injury, the whole thing was going to be live onstage in front of a paying audience.
And then they told me that, as a competitor, I'd be "mentored" by previous winners and finalists including Dhruv Baker, Mat Follas, Tim Kinnaird and Alex Rushmer.
And the problem with that was:
(a) I've been kinda rude to them in the past, and
(b) I know them well enough to suspect that they'd take the almighty pish out of me.
But I went along anyway. Cos I thought it'd be fun. There was a whole group of bloggers including James from Eat The Midlands, Bron, Ailbhe, Jo and my mate Kavey who loves MasterChef almost as much as me, but doesn't have the weird, abusive relationship with it that I have, ie she's not compelled by unseen forces to deride it online like I am.
The night before I'd been to a fantastic comedy club at Bush Hall, MC'ed by the fabulous Rufus Hound, and starring Kevin Eldon and Stewart Lee. I didn't get home till past midnight, didn't sleep till 2. And I had to get up at 5.45 am. It was a bad start. Kavey was punchably bright and chipper, and I was somehow panicked yet lifeless at the same time.
We got to the NEC at 9.15 where the Miele guys were waiting for us with our tickets. They led us to the MasterChef Stage and then into the backstage area, which had a VIP anteroom where the "Talent" were hiding.
As we put our bags down, one of the "Talent", a certain Dr Tim Kinnaird, hove into view and came to greet us. His first words to me were "Are you feeling nervous?"; my first words to him were "F*ck off". But they came with a hug, so I expect that softened the blow.
We put on our aprons, tied our hair back, washed our hands, and it was time to rock and roll. Andi Peters, a childhood hero and former Celebrity MasterChef finalist, was our MC as the ten of us looked in our mystery bags to find chicken breast, peas, bacon, marscarpone, raspberries, celeriac, and a vanilla pod.
As I desperately tried to think of something to concoct, Dr Tim had started to heckle remorselessly from the side. Because I am a nice girl and we were in public, I bit my tongue, but dark, dark thoughts went through my mind as I sliced away with the gorgeous Kin Knives that they'd provided for us.
I settled on honey and paprika chicken with a herby couscous - I'd been meaning to make a fancy tortilla, but the only frying pan they'd provided wasn't quite the right shape. Kavey on the other hand decided on American pancakes with marscarpone and vanilla cream and raspberries. I don't do puddings - though my husband wishes I did - and I think Kavey was the only person who made one.
So Dhruv and Mat came round to "mentor" us and taste our dishes, though all I really remember is Dhruv sticking his nose into my marinating chicken whilst I tried to swat him away like a fly and Mat complaining about the amount of mint I wanted to use as garnish.
Then John and Gregg came to talk to us. Oh yes.
John asked me if this was the kind of stuff I'd make at home, and when I replied in the affirmative, he simply raised his eyebrows at me. I silently punched the air, as I thought "I just got a look of disdain from John! It's just like being on the telly!". Even better, he was wearing a cardigan. Bless him.
Gregg's opening words to us were "So you're the mad bloggers!" which made me wince, and frankly I don't recall the rest of our interaction, though I appear to have a rictus grin in the photo which captured the holy moment.
And then it was time for our mentors to pick three finalists to present their dishes to John and Gregg. Lovely Kavey was in the final three, but alas, not little old me. I'm not bitter about this at all, although Dhruv and Mat are now permanently off my Christmas card list.
Thankfully, there is a God, because having tasted the three dishes, Gregg and John picked Kavey's pancakes as the winner. I may have jumped up and down in joy at this point. It's a good thing the stage was reinforced.
So it was all over, and I was in the slightly strange position of being the winner's mate. Strange in that people kept coming up to her and saying "well done" and "next stop, the real thing" and patting her on the back. Kavey, the muppet, barely noticed and I became quite protective of her, chivvying her from one place to the next.
We wandered around the Show for a while, where there were lots of great produce stands and fab cookery demos and celebrity book-signings going on. All very exciting and a real festival atmosphere - I could have easily frittered a lot of money away.
Lunchtime arrived and though the MasterChef restaurant with its offerings of dishes from past MC winners looked extremely tempting, we opted for pies backstage from Sarah Pettegree, the lovely Pork Pie Queen of Bray's Cottage, Norfolk.
Now I like Mat, and I like Dhruv, but who is better? There was only one way to find out ...
They were both charged with making a lamb dish, and we were lucky enough to bag front row seats courtesy of press passes provided by Haymarket, the organisers.
The guys only had 20 minutes to produce a dish of wonder, and John and Gregg constantly chatted to them and tried to psych them out throughout.
To their credit, as the clock ticked down, both Dhruv and Mat presented stunning plates with apparent ease.
And then to our surprise and delight, little Georgia Bradford, Junior MasterChef Champion 2010, came on as a guest judge.
Georgia declared Dhruv the winner for his creative use of spices, and the look of relief on his face was palpable.
Poor Mat to be judged by a child, though it was adorable when Georgia said "I don't want to be horrible, Mat, but..." when she delivered the verdict.
(The video below shows highlights including Gregg talking about the bromance between Dhruv, Tim and Alex, and Dhruv talking about the MasterChef pop-up restaurant that the three of them will be running together - watch this space for more news of the latter)
We managed to blag the leftovers, and I think we agreed that Dhruv's lamb had the slight edge over Mat's - but I loved Mat's smoked mash more than Dhruv's spinach.
Then we were called for our second activity kindly arranged by Miele - a cookalong with Barney Desmazery, food editor of BBC Good Food Magazine.
It was frantic fun having to keep up with Barney, even if I did get sabotaged (a pan that was meant to be cold had been placed on an active hotplate so I set fire to some toffees. I love making a tit of myself in public, I do).
I did like getting to use the swanky Miele appliances again - my dream kitchen would be kitted out with Miele stuff, especially that magic fridge freezer.
In no time at all, each one of us managed to produce some highly respectable plates of chicken tikka kebabs, tomato and onion salad, and za'atar flatbreads plus a dessert of strawberry and toffee tarts which we took over to the MasterChef Restaurant to share with the Miele team.
Kavey and I then decided to take our leftover tarts to Tim and Alex to forcefeed them our efforts.
We didn't tell them which was which, and I'm not remotely ashamed to say I squealed with gloaty joy when Tim (who is a cakey genius) chose my tart, chowed it down and pronounced it lovely.
IN YOUR FACE, people. IN YOUR FACE.
And then we went for another little wander through the many stands and stalls, swinging by my cousin's company Yum Yum Tree Fudge before realising we were knackered and that every last bit of us was aching from having been on our feet all day.
But it was a good ache, and we'd had a bloody good time.
So thank you Miele, and thank you Haymarket for organising such a grand day out.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'm never going to go on MasterChef for real.
But this was a nice little taste and for that I'm grateful.
ps I've just set up a Facebook fan page for meemalee's kitchen.
I know it's a bit w*nk, but if you'd like to hurl abuse at me or simply feed my monstrous ego, please join here.
As for making a tit of yourself on stage, whilst I may have managed to impress with a pancake, I did manage to knock the large pot of cooking implements onto the floor with a god almighty crash bang not just once but in both our stage sessions! Not to mention that any lipreaders in the audience during our cookalong with Barney would have been quite shocked at my language!
The Miele team were absolutely lovely, the helper sous chefs on stage were too and of course, such a pleasure to spend time with lovely Sarah of Brays Cottage and with Mat, Tim, Alex and Dhruv!
My feet, hips and knees hurt so much when I got home I am STILL suffering today!
Why can't they bring the BBC Good Food back to London I could have done it then!
Hope to see you soon!
@sasasunakku - Compared to this, eating a sheep's face was easy.
@Kavey - Thank you for coming - wouldn't have been as fun without you xxx
@Sarah, Maison Cupcake - My hands were wobbling throughout. I am lucky I didn't chop my fingers off.
@Helen - 12-14 November - MasterChef Live comes to London. Stick it in your diary :)
Such fun! Great post!
But you are far to nice for that sort of thing. And your eye would have twitched even more!
Great read MiMi and loving the fact theres an ad for Imodium linked to this post
Btw, total respect to you for having done the real deal x
@FoodUrchin - I am nice. Far too nice.
Also, GAH - I saw that Immodium ad. Not a happy bunny.
Looks like a great day. Hurray for Kavey! Your dish sounded lovely too. Eff Torode and his face of derision.
You're dead brave, you two. Well done! And look how focused you are. Proper pros.
@suzler - I wish you could have come. I would have paid to see you jump on John for a start.
I do like how the photos came out - we do look quite professional, don't we?
And my parents have commented that I somehow don't look fat in any of the shots. Which is nice.
Well done. You rock. :)
There is absolutely no way I could have done that Masterchef bit; shouting at the telly is one thing, actually doing is another. I probably would have attempted some kind of pie, some kind of terrible gak tasting pie from the sounds of the ingredients.
The cook along bit looked fun though! Will you be going in November too? Not sure I'll be there this year as I vaguely remember my mum telling me now I live in London she'd "assumed I wouldn't want to travel to Birmingham for the day as they couldn't put me up" it being just that far and all! May just buy myself tickets though depending.
Also (I just remembered!) you went to see Stewart Lee and The Actor Kevin Eldon? We must do these things together! I'm off to tweet you RIGHT NOW about whether you've planning on hitting the Edinburgh Fringe this year as I have yet to organise myself into any plans!
The Junior MasterChef Winner loved our fudge and visited our stand several times in appreciation!!
YUM YUM TREE FUDGE
@beccarothwell - Aha - well, as I said to Fuss Free Flavours above, on 12-14 November, the BBC Good Food Show aka MasterChef Live comes to London. Let's do it.
Making a pie in 30 minutes would be pretty difficult, methinks.
And yes, of course I love Stu Lee and the Actor Kevin Eldon and the Curious Orange etc. We shall hit up some gigs together, my dear.
@Lily Aye Turner - You should totally put that on your website:
"Junior MasterChef Champion 2010 Georgia Bradford loves Yum Yum Tree Fudge".
Did you take a picture of her?
I love the photos, particularly the cat+cream one of you and the kebabs. Am now feeling a bit sad that I wasn't there.
Thanks Aaron - you should do the London Show and then I can make fun of you! (actually, you'll probably be brilliant)
I cook in a working kitchen every day but wpuld have been a quivering blank minded wreck if I had to do this.Much admiration.
May I ask where you cook - or is it a secret? :)
@Dennis K - Ha, thanks Dennis! I like the sound of "meemalee aprons" :)
Btw, you know MasterChef is headed your way right? Hosted by none other than Gordon Ramsay himself ...
@Frillz - Murky buckets, my dear x