Wherever You Are, There’s the Feast

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by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Each November, everywhere you look, glossy magazines focus on Thanksgiving food: the turkey, the sides, the desserts. And that’s all wonderful, and important, but let me tell you something: the people who sit around the table, wherever that table may be, are the ones who make Thanksgiving memorable.

Fourteen years ago, my husband Colin and I served as Peace Corps volunteers in the East African nation of Eritrea. That November, come Thanksgiving, we hopped a bus and traveled from our little house in Decamhare to the town of Keren to gather at the home of two friends.  All around the country, our fellow volunteers did the same–some rode rickety busses for three hours, some for eight, some for even longer. Although we were stationed far apart, we made the effort to celebrate the holiday together.

I recently emailed these old Peace Corps friends to ask them what they recall about our Thanksgivings in Africa and was struck by how wildly their memories varied. It was fun to piece together their reminiscences, and to spur a collective sense of nostalgia for such a unique time in all of our lives.

Here’s what they shared: Sarah says she thought our country director imported a turkey from Germany, although Devra claims it was from South Africa. Jannett isn’t convinced there was a turkey at all. “Did we actually have meat?” she asked.  Kristen remembers her feelings about the spread without recalling specific foods. “I was beside myself at the variety and selection of food.  Never has a Thanksgiving feast been so incredibly appreciated.”

Julie’s memories go to the following Thanksgiving, when we gathered at Adam’s house in Nefasit. She remembers that one group headed up the mountain to Debre Bizen, an ancient monastery, while others hung back to prepare the meal. She recalls dancing outside “in front of the fire, which meant we had music–Adam was good for always having music.” For his part, Adam remembers “going around Nefasit trying to get as much charcoal as I could find, which ended up being quite a lot. I remember there was lots of cooking going on during the day, but I can’t remember what we were cooking.”

And therein lies the most important nugget, the gem, really, of Thanksgiving. For all our focus on the food, on making it perfect, or beautiful, or right, the food is not what people remember. People remember the feelings of fellowship, and if my friends are any indication, they remember those feelings with tremendous joy. This is true no matter where you were, and what you may, or may not, have eaten.

So this year, reach out to friends and family from Thanksgivings past. Reconnect, reminisce, and be grateful for their presence in your life.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.

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Lentil Soup with Roasted Pumpkin

By Cheryl Sternman Rule

Lentils are a staple food in Eritrea, and every time I prepare them I recall my years there.  Adding cubed roasted pumpkin lends this soup vibrant color and transforms it into an ideal Thanksgiving starter.


One 2-pound “pie” pumpkin (also called sugar pumpkins or sugar pie pumpkins)
2 cups brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
Two 14-ounce cans low sodium chicken broth (you may substitute chicken stock or vegetable stock)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a heavy knife, cut the pumpkin in half.  Use a serrated grapefruit spoon (or a regular spoon) to scrape out the seeds and all the strings.  Discard.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat it with nonstick spray. Lay the pumpkin halves cut side down and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until fork tender but not mushy.  Remove from oven and remove the peel in large swaths using tongs. Season both sides with sea salt (1/4 teaspoon total) and a grinding of black pepper. Turn pumpkin halves cut side up and let cool completely. Dice.

While the pumpkin roasts, start the soup. Combine the lentils, broth, and 4 cups of cold water in a soup pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 25 minutes.

While the lentils summer, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions and a pinch more slat and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes.  Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds longer.

When lentils are ready, stir the carrot mixture and diced pumpkin into the soup pot.  Season with the lemon juice, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/alisoneats/ Alison Ashton

    Isn’t it funny–holidays that depart from “tradition” are among those we remember most fondly.

  • http://JacquelineChurch.com Jacqueline

    This almost looks like the lunch I had today. Hadn’t thought of putting lentils and pumpkin together but something about it seems right. On the list!

  • http://www.therovinglemon.blogspot.com Nancy

    So very true–speaking as someone celebrating her ninth overseas Thanksgiving, and having reluctantly decided that this year it’s just not feasible to do the turkey extravaganza, and that the important thing is that my husband, my daughter, and I will be together, no matter what we have for dinner. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Alison . . . I love your paraphrase–so interesting. And, Nancy, sounds like you’ve found the essence of Thanksgiving. Happy holiday!

  • sarah

    Cheryl, We’re channeling similar thoughts & recipes-I love a lentil soup–over the Thanksgiving weekend. But I, too, had never thought to pair it with pumpkin. Love it when an old fav gets gussied up with a new idea. Thks!

  • http://terra-americana.typepad.com/terra-americana/ luke

    Would have never thought of putting pumpkin into a soup. What a great idea for thanksgiving.
    please come and visit my website.