My grandparents were two of my very best friends. I was blessed to have them in my life for almost three decades. Now that they’re gone, their spirit inspires my cooking in unexpected ways.
Grandma and Grandpa Avey were married on February 1, 1934, and they celebrated 73 wedding anniversaries together. They were married during the Great Depression, which meant that frugality was the top priority. Grandma sewed her own wedding dress– a simple frock, with a big beautiful bow on the front and flowers around the waist.
My grandparents on their wedding day, February 1, 1934
My grandma Lois was a very creative woman. She loved to paint and knit and sew. She played piano and loved the classical composers… Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach. Grandpa Clarence was a history buff, he was like a walking encyclopedia. World history was his favorite, particularly classical and ancient history. He could tell you anything you wanted to know about Ancient Rome and Greece, early Christianity, Medieval Europe, the Crusades and the Renaissance. When you see me exploring the history of food on my website, you have my grandpa to thank. He helped me catch the “history bug” when I was just a little girl.
Growing up, I was lucky to be able to visit my grandparents on a regular basis. They were like another set of parents to me. My grandpa used to tell me I was the “daughter they never had.” They had raised three sons before my grandpa retired. My dad was the youngest son of the three, and I am his only child. When I was born, my grandparents moved to be closer to us, and they became a major part of my childhood. Being with them was like a vacation… I looked forward to sleeping over at their house a few times a month. Grandma and I would paint, play piano, and sew, then Grandpa would take me out to the garden to pull weeds and pick fresh tomatoes. After dinner they would tell me stories and show me slides from their world travels. Their favorite thing to do was see the distant countries that my grandpa had read so much about.
Grandma and Grandpa Avey take a trip on the Orient Express, 1996
My grandparents were frugal in most areas of their life, saving their money so they could travel all over the globe. They didn’t just stick to the normal touristy places… London, Paris, Rome… they ventured into areas that most people only dream about. Egypt, Israel, Morocco, India, Nepal, Hungary, Turkey, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Japan… and these are just the countries that immediately come to mind. I’m sure there were many others. For six years in the 1970’s, they lived in Spain in a house called “Playa de Aro.” They used it as a home base for exploring Europe in a VW camper bus. They moved back to the U.S. before I was born, and built a replica of their Spanish adobe in the mountains above Santa Cruz, CA. But they continued to travel, going on at least one trip per year. Every time my grandparents left the country, they would bring me back a doll from the exotic places they visited. By the time I was 12 my collection was very large indeed.
Part of my international doll collection
At age 13, it was my turn. My grandparents took me and my cousin Mark on a tour of Europe, just as they had with all of their children and grandchildren. You see, Grandma and Grandpa loved exploring the world. They wanted more than anything to share that passion with the people they loved.
My trip to Europe with Grandma and Grandpa, 1992
My grandma knew how to cook, but it wasn’t her favorite pastime. One thing I do remember about my grandma’s cooking was her love of couscous. When I was a kid, couscous was pretty uncommon here in the U.S. My grandparents had tried it on a trip to Morocco, and they fell in love with the delicate texture. My grandma liked serving it as an alternative to rice or potatoes. In our California countryside community, she had to travel to a special health food store to find the instant couscous that has become so common in today’s grocery stores. She was ahead of her time.
Grandma Avey rides a camel in Morocco
When I created this couscous dish a couple of years ago, I found myself thinking about my grandma. The dish seems like a reflection of her spirit. The bright yellow of the saffron was her favorite color. The lemon essence is bright and cheerful, just like her personality. The pine nuts remind me of the pine-covered ranch where she raised my dad and his brothers in Northern California. And that touch of cayenne is the spice that made her special. She was classy, kind, beautiful, and smart as a whip– just like my grandpa. They were two peas in a perfect, predestined pod… the definition of soul mates.
Grandma and Grandpa on their 70th wedding anniversary
I like to serve this couscous on a blue glass plate. My grandma collected blue glass. Everything about this dish reminds me of her.
Today is their wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa Avey. I miss you every day.
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Lemony Saffron Couscous
- 1/4 tsp saffron threads
- 2 1/4 cups chicken broth (use "no chicken" broth to make it vegetarian/pareve)
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 cups instant couscous (about one 12 oz. box)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
- 15 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed (1 can)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
- Pinch cayenne pepper (optional-- adds spice)
Pour saffron threads into a mortar and crush them into powder. Pour 1/4 cup hot water over the saffron and let it soak for five minutes.
Pour the saffron water into a large saucepan along with chicken broth (use "no chicken" broth to keep it vegetarian), 1 tsp salt, lemon zest, and 2 tbsp olive oil. Bring to a boil.
Add the instant couscous to the boiling broth and stir. Bring back to a boil, then immediately cover and remove from heat. Let the couscous steam in the pot for 8-10 minutes till tender.
Meanwhile, pour pine nuts into a skillet and roast them over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, till they are toasted light brown and release some of their natural oils. Watch the nuts carefully, they can easily burn if left unattended.
Pour the toasted pine nuts into a large mixing bowl along with the chopped cilantro and garbanzo beans.
Use a fork to fluff the couscous in the pan, then scrape the couscous into the mixing bowl with the fork, fluffing the couscous as you go. Use a fork or clean hands to mix all ingredients till thoroughly combined, breaking up any clumps of couscous that may have formed.
In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, and a very small pinch of cayenne pepper. Pour the dressing from the small bowl into the couscous mixture. Toss with a fork to thoroughly coat. Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt, if desired.
May be served warm or at room temperature. I like to make this couscous with chicken broth to give it a rich, savory flavor. If you're a vegetarian/vegan or wish to keep the salad pareve, use a mock chicken broth like Imagine Organic No Chicken Broth.