Honoring a friend, celebrating community

jen's splash

RECIPE: Spiced French lentils with collard greens.

I met Erin at my first chemotherapy. She was wearing an orange head scarf, huge wooden earrings and was drinking coconut water.  She smiled. I smiled. It’s not exactly the place you see other young people.

These beautiful photos aren't mine, but I wanted to share them.

  • Why’s that? Less than 3% of those diagnosed with cancer are under 35 years old. Other interesting things to note:
  • Cancer survival rates for people ages 15 to 39 have not risen substantially in more than two decades.
  • Young adults with cancers have received relatively little attention compared with children and older adults with cancer.

So Erin and I met in the chemo room and became friends.  She battled breast cancer. A year ago, at the hospice center, I met more of her family and friends. There were guitars. Flowers. Laughter. And, too, the tears. There, Erin passed away.

I’ve never experienced a passing so closely before. I doubt many of us had. The hardship, I expected. But it surprised me — the beauty. In the release of pain. In the love of community. The hearts of nurses and others.

And so this weekend, a year later, we gathered to celebrate Erin. There’s my glass, above, which was raised in her honor.

It was a last minute idea. But people flew in. People drove hours. They flooded the living room with joy and new babies and stories and memories.

The potluck assignment was to make something Erin would love. That’s not a far stretch for me; she and I traded recipe ideas. Ones laced with all the good stuff cancer patients need. So my simple veggie side was lentils and greens, cooked in ginger, shallots and a jalapeno. (And I was thrilled to find those beautiful French green lentils.)

Although not in the recipe, I added peppers — mindful to eat a rainbow of color whenever possible.

And I used collard greens plus some lovely purple kale, too. Three big bunches of greens that cook down considerably.

It’s a dish my body appreciates. Easy to digest. Subtle flavors. Filling — in the right way. And that fact that it’s African-inspired only warms my heart more.

RECIPE RATING: 4 of 5 glasses of champagne, with a strawberry. It’s an excellent veggie side dish and something I’ve made in bulk before for a week of lunches. (When I ate it for lunches, I added a serving of cottage cheese and loved it.)

Here’s to community. And to the people who grace our lives, even if for a short time. The mark they leave is infinite.

Want to learn more about young adults and cancer? Livestrong’s alliance is making strides. And stupid cancer sure can rally. Next Step inspires, too. And consider making a donation for research — to any number of cancer institutions.

Spiced French lentils with collard greens.
5.0 from 1 reviews
Author: Jen
Adapted from Lane Morgan’s ‘Winter Harvest’ cookbook.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, diced fine (or one medium sweet onion)
  • 1 tbsp ginger root, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 hot peppers, seeds scraped out and pepper diced
  • 1 C lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 2 C water (although I wonder about using veggie stock instead?)
  • LOTS of greens, rinsed and chopped. It calls for 3 C. I doubled that and used 3 bunches of collard greens and purple chard. The best way to prep greens is to cut away the stems and then chop up the leaves.
  • 2 bell peppers,diced. I prefer ones with color and used a red and a yellow
  • 1 tbsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese, to top.
  1. Heat oil in a skillet.
  2. Saute shallots/onion, ginger, garlic and chilies over medium heat, for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add lentils, water and half the chopped greens. Bring to a simmer.
  4. Cook on low heat for about 20 minutes Lentils should be tender, but not dissolved into mush. (This is one reason I like the French lentils, they keep their shape.)
  5. Add diced pepper and the rest of greens and cook lightly for 1-2 minutes. This way you still have some crunch in the dish with the peppers and the greens haven’t all melted into limp bits.
  6. Stir in cardamom, salt and pepper. Add more to taste if need be. (Hot sauce may also be nice.)
  7. Serve with plain yogurt or cottage cheese on the side.


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4 Responses to Honoring a friend, celebrating community

  1. Jim Tolar says:

    A beautiful tribute from a beautiful friend. This post makes me simultaneously want to smile and cry, which is the mix of emotions I imagine were present at the celebration.

    I’ll make this side dish and when I do, I’ll think of you and your friend Erin.


  2. bryan rose says:


    This is an amazing tribute to Erin. Thank you so much for being a part of the celebration! The greens were incredible….even more so after reading your blog!

  3. Jen says:

    Thank you both so much! :)

  4. Pingback: It really is really good pumpkin bread | Wine and a Spoon

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