In the early nineties I was very fortunate to live with a girl called Kristina who taught me a thing or two about the joy of urban living. We lived in a big old apartment in Edgecliff, and when we first moved in Kristina declared we would paint the place from top to bottom in nothing but white. I had never painted a darned thing at that stage of my life. I'd certainly watched my mum do it often enough. But I had always been relegated to the role of chief snack provider, serving my mother copious cups of tea accompanied by all manner of cakes, biscuits or slices.
The first weekend of painting with Kristina, I assumed my normal role, pumping out savoury scones and pots of coffee while Kristina transformed the lounge into a white wonderland.
"When are you going to start your room?" she asked me on the Sunday afternoon.
"Um," I said, stunned that my game was up.
"Look, here's what you do," she said. "You put some paint in a tray, you dip the roller in it and you slap it on the walls. That's all there is to it!"
The following weekend I donned my oldest t-shirt and shorts, dragged the step ladder into my room and set about slapping the paint onto the walls exactly how Kristina said. I've been a happy domestic painter ever since!
Painting aside, Kristina also taught me how to cook for friends without a whole lot of fuss. Her favourite Thursday night meal was a good cut of meat, chicken or fish, served with what she called Crazy Salad. Basically you threw whatever you had in the crisper into a bowl, dressed it with whole egg mayonnaise, seasoned it with cracked pepper and rock salt and voila - dinner for ten!
250g organic chicken breast fillets
handful of baby spinach leaves
big handful of mixed salad leaves (leave out radicchio - it's far too bitter)
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 slices of telegraph cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, grated (or shredded if you've got a nifty grater that does that)
4 pitted kalamata olives, quartered
4 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
8 snow peas, trimmed and halved
1 ear of fresh corn (see below for cooking directions)
fresh dill (broken into small segments)
2 heaped tblsps whole egg mayonnaise
Salt & pepper to season
1. Trim the icky bits off the chicken breast fillets and feed them to your dog (I've said this before and I stand by this as a bonafide cooking procedure!). Heat a fry pan on the stove top and coat it with a little olive oil spray. Add the chicken breast fillets to the pan and seal them on both sides. Then remove them and using a carving fork and knife, slice the fillets into 1cm wide pieces, cutting at a diagonal through the meat. Return the pieces to the fry pan and continue to cook until tender.
2. Wash spinach and lettuce leaves and place in a large salad bowl. Add cherry tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, olives, sun dried tomatoes, snow peas and fresh dill, then toss lightly.
3. Cut the ear of corn into rounds so that the kernels and cob look like wagon wheels. Steam for three minutes in a steamer - corn will be semi-translucent when cooked. Emerse in cold water to bring back to room temperature. When cold, add to salad.
4. Drop the tablespoons of mayonnaise on top of the salad in big dollops. Don't attempt to mix it in!
5. Serve four or five pieces of grilled chicken per plate (you should have enough for two or three people). Place the salad bowl on the table and let people serve themselves. The great thing about this salad is it's really like a lucky dip - you just don't know what veggies will end up on your plate. And if people want a little or a lot of mayo, they'll scoop it off the top themselves. Yum!