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The Greatest Gift: Harmony Cooking for Those You Hate and Love

04/02/2013 11:32 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2013
  • O'Brien Browne Award-Winning Author, Personal Coach, Intercultural Expert, Public Speaker

If I asked you, in all sincerity, what is the better thing, giving or taking, you'd most likely toss your head, laugh in my face and spit in my eye because the answer is apparently so obvious.

Fair enough. And if I asked of you, "Well, what are you doing about this?" you might pause for a moment, frown, and become lost in foggy thought. Some of you might even punch me in the nose.

But I would say this:

If you hate your boss, bring her/him home-made muffins. If your best friend is getting on your nerves, bake bread together. If you can't stand your family, cook for them.

If you find yourself locked in a conflict situation, or a situation where communication has become polarized, try bringing the warring parties together for a Harmony Meal, created either by yourself or someone like me and my partner Nick Parry who organize and cook at such events.

Since the ancient Greeks first quaffed wine and ate roasted meat from a roaring fire, cooking for someone -- for those you love and hate -- has always been the greatest gift. Embrace the art of cooking and the art of eating with friend and apparent foe. This is concomitant with the art of letting go and moving on. Give freely. Risk the acting of loving. Life is sensation, so celebrate your capacity to feel, develop, embrace and grow -- and to cook and eat well. With this in mind, create your Harmony Meal.

Make your Harmony Meal unforgettable. Set the table with a lovely wine, charming napkins, a jug of pure well water livened with fresh mint, sensuous candles. Present your guests with a creative menu, graced by an elegant font. Create your own unique amuse-gueule and hors-d'oeuvres as a special gift to your guests. Release your creativity. Demand nothing in return except that all eat well, and relish in the meal and the conversation.

Respect your guests: the elderly demand to eat before 5 p.m.; the children wish to play; the lawyers will say they can't possibly make it on time, but will somehow make it anyway; the hurt will say "I can't eat with those bastards!", but then miraculously produce perfect fondant chocolat for those bastards; and the mortally ill will tell you "I can't eat anything except raw carrots," and then passionately devour all the meats, cheeses, pastas and desserts you lay before them. Don't cook pork for your Muslim brother-in-law. Make a ricotta-sun-dried tomato-pecorino tart for the vegetarians among you. Your sister is filled with anxieties? Play gentle jazz as background music instead of Rage Against the Machine. This will cost you nothing but create joy and warmth for your dinner guests. And your selfless act will bring you all closer together, given one essential ingredient: a willingness to communicate among all parties.

It is, however, vital that you don't play the victim or the fool to your guests. Do not create your Harmony Meal in order to enhance your self-esteem, self-importance or neediness: to do so is to live life as a slave. This is especially pertinent for you women out there with your marvelous need to soothe, ease and mother the warriors of the world. You've probably already made quite a few Harmony Meals already, especially if you are balancing home life with a career. My suggestion: keep your eyes peeled for Harmony Meals on offer from others, and accept and enjoy them as often as you can. Think of your own needs, desires and demands, and fulfill them in any manner you feel is good and right; your family will survive, enjoy and prosper from your own moments of pleasure. There's nothing duller than a martyr.

As you create your Harmony Meal, realize that giving is harder work than taking. Know that after cooking you may feel kaputt, as the Germans say, and you probably won't eat a bite at all, your meal being a forever-filled glass of lush red Primativo, Graves or Zinfandel wine. But you will be more than satisfied by the results of your act of giving, creating and celebrating. Cooking and eating together is sharing and sharing is loving and loving is understanding and it all becomes one thing: compassion. And this is the nourishment of the gods.

And, because we're all essentially hard-hearted capitalists, aren't we, the ultimate question is: what's in it for you and your Harmony Meal? Where's your results, damn it?! Well, it could be this: the opportunity to release anger, ease tensions, seal ancient wounds or to open hearts and minds by bringing those you love together in an act of sharing, to create something beautiful rather than to demand something in return, to give rather than to take, to close circles and even to have the chance to bid au revoir to whatever or whomever needs to be au revoired, in a most charming and elegant manner.

And remember: sometimes the greatest conflicts of all can be solved by the simplest of things: a freshly backed orange-walnut muffin or a lovingly crafted fig stuffed with a tiny ball of creamy Lebanese labneh cheese, which has been rolled in chopped fresh herbs and delicately wrapped in a crisp basil leaf and a paper-thin slice of prosciutto, glazed in truffle honey.

After all, eating well must surely be better than hating badly. So the next time you find yourself in a conflict situation, cook your way out of it, whether at home or at work.

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