Ailin Quinlan: The simple things matter, like a cute grandson and a coddle!

What's the recipe for happiness? It's the little things, so says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Ailin Quinlan: The simple things matter, like a cute grandson and a coddle!

RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS: Áilín Quinlan and her young grandson enjoyed quality time making a Dublin Coddle together

I WAS never so grateful to see the swallows swooping around the house again; the sense of normality they brought was ridiculous.

They’re late but they’re here, and I nearly cried with relief. I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to stay on in Egypt and just not embark on the long, perilous journey to West Cork.

I wasn’t always this appreciative. There were years when the kids were young and life was crazy and I existed in such a permanent stage of exhaustion that I never noticed our swallows at all. At most, I vaguely registered the fact that a series of small birds were racing each other around my house.

One thing that some of us have learned from the whole Covid-19 episode — which, by the way, I don’t think is over yet and not by a long shot — is to appreciate the little things that bring you happiness. However humble they are.

For example, my four-year-old grandson loves sausages. They are, he has informed me on more than one occasion, his absolute Number One, hands-down, favourite food of all time. Best thing ever. As good as Christmas.

He was coming to me for his dinner the other night, so when I collected him after work, I pulled out an old recipe I used to make years ago. Dublin Coddle. It was an old, old family favourite and the simplest thing ever; nothing to it but a heap of good quality sausages and rashers from the butcher, along with plenty of onions and potatoes and lots of pepper and a pile of chopped fresh parsley if you have it.

Yet I’d never made it for him. I hadn’t made it for years. I’d forgotten all about Dublin Coddle until the day before he came.

“What are you making,” he said, as I got out all the ingredients and started work. “A surprise,” I said, frying the bacon and then adding the sausages and chopped onions.

“Are we having sausages?” he asked curiously.

“Not telling,” I said, peeling some potatoes. “Go away outside and play.” He went.

“Actually, come back in here a minute,” I called. “Get your scissors, we have to go and get some herbs.”

My grandson took his little red child-sized scissors from the hook in the kitchen and we went out to the pots of herbs in the back yard.

“What do we have to cut today, granny?” he asked.

“Parsley,” I said.

He cast a speculative look around the pots.

“Granny, I’ve forgotten, which one the parsley is again.”

Together we surveyed the lush and burgeoning display. Like everything else, the herbs were slow to come this year because of the unseasonably cold Spring. They were never this late before, at least that I can recall, but it was still so cold towards the end of May that mice were attracted by the warmth of the engine of my car and climbed in and chewed the fuel cable, causing a near-meltdown on the main road the next day. That never happened before. The herbs were never this late before.

Anyway, enough of all that. They’re here now, and looking well, and that’s enough for us for the time being. Back to the parsley.

“Guess,” I challenged him.

“Hmm,” he said meditatively. “Parsley.” He pointed to one of the pots.

“No, that one’s rosemary,” I said.

One by one, he went through the pots of thyme, bay leaves, oregano, chives, sage and fever-few. Eventually he arrived at the parsley.

“Is this the parsley, Granny” he asked.

“It is,” I said.

He was absolutely delighted with himself. “I told you I’d find it,” he said confidently.

Nodding to himself, he carefully cut a few large sprigs with his scissors, and I cut a big bunch with mine. We took a few leaves of sage as well while we were at it.

Back in the kitchen, he watched as I chopped the herbs and added them to the mix along with the pepper the potatoes and some water.

“Off out you go again,” I told him.

His grandad arrived in from work and checked with the kitchen to see if there was enough time for him to start mowing the lawn before dinner.

“I always drive the lawnmower,” my grandson announced.

My husband looked at him. “D’you want to drive the lawnmower today,” he offered.

“No, thanks,” my grandson said.

 “I did that the last day. Today’s my day off,” and he mounted his bike and whizzed away.

When dinner was ready, I washed up, set the table and called them all in. I was starting to feel a bit tired now, after the day at work and the dinner preparation, simple as it was. I put the Coddle into big bowls and sprinkled parsley on top.

“What’s this,” my grandson said, eyeing the contents of his Peter Rabbit bowl a bit suspiciously after dumping his bike at the back door and climbing up on his chair.

“It’s Dublin Coddle. Those are your herbs,” I said.

“Did I ever eat this before,” he inquired.

“No,” I said.

He tried it tentatively. He tasted it again. And again. And then he looked up at me, his blue eyes shining like two stars. “Granny, this is so nice I can’t stop eating it.”

He gobbled a few more spoonfuls. He beamed across the table.

“Granny, this sauce is so lovely I can’t even stop drinking it!” There was a pause “Will you make this the next time?” “I will,” I said.

And that, my friends, is happiness.

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