Stand Facing Whatever

A Square-One Approach to Any Problem

The very first edition of "The Joy of Cooking” opens with this sentence, "Stand facing the stove.” Don't you just love that? It's like Irma Rombauer was telling her readers, "So, you want to learn how to cook? Okay, fine. We'll begin with the basics.”

To me it's a brilliant philosophy, and one not limited to cooking. I mean, think about it. How many times have you been faced with a challenge that was so overwhelming and so daunting that you found yourself absolutely frozen in place because you didn't even know where to start? It has certainly happened to me. But lately I've been using Ms. Rombauer's instructions as sort of a little mantra. And you know what? It works! In other words, when I approach a task literally from square one, suddenly what once seemed completely insurmountable becomes a lot more manageable. Let me give you some examples, to show how you can apply it to your own situation.

Say you've just started a new job in a completely new field from your previous experience. Now all of a sudden, in addition to learning the ropes that go along with any new position, you also have to quickly come up to speed on all sorts of unfamiliar concepts and technologies, not to mention learning an industry lingo that's as foreign to you as Chinese is to a Texan. What do you do?

Stand facing the desk. Before attempting to master the tricky little inner-workings of the job, first you need to get your muddled head around the purpose of the business to begin with. What is the company's basic objective? Once you figure that out, everything else will start to make a lot more sense. Yes, you're still going to have buckets of homework to do every night for a while, but at least you'll have a sensible answer when somebody asks (in the words of Madeleine Kahn in "Young Frankenstein”) "What is it that you do do?”

Here's another example. You're a brand new mom. It's your first day alone with your little bundle of joy. All the grandmothers have gone home. Hubby is back at the office. It's just you and Junior. And he chooses this special moment to introduce you to a delightful little thing known as "projectile vomiting.” What do you do now?

Stand facing the baby (but point him away from you!) This is not the time to ask yourself why he was born. Nor is it the time to ask yourself why you were born. You must deal with the situation at hand. First, once you're reasonably certain that no more puke is forthcoming, do your best to comfort the poor little guy. (Remember, this is a "first” for him too!) Next, commence the cleanup process starting with the baby himself and working outward. This could take a while, depending upon his velocity and his aim. After order is restored, then and only then may you turn your attention to such weighty questions as "What caused him to do this?” "How many days are left until he leaves for college?” and "Do they make hazmat suits in my size?”

Of course there are countless other ways to apply Rombauer's concept. Some that come to mind include: Stand facing the flooded laundry room. Stand facing the yet-to-be-started book report due tomorrow that your 4th grader has just now mentioned. Stand facing the cancelled flight. Stand facing the 2-gallon jug of pre-colonoscopy liquid. And the one I highly recommend to our elected officials: Stand facing the debt.

Finally, there's this. Let's assume you need to drop a pound or two or sixty. You've tried everything, but admittedly not very hard. Alas, your 40th high school reunion is only three weeks away. What is your course of action?

Stand facing the mirror. Now, suck in your stomach. Did anything move? If not (and you didn't really think it would, did you?) don't sweat it. Just chalk up your girth to "a life well lived” and move on… preferably to the kitchen, where you will find just the thing to perk you right up. I'm referring, of course, to chocolate pudding. Not the instant stuff that comes in a box – or worse, the fake pre-made mystery substance that doesn't even require refrigeration. I'm talking about the kind you make from scratch. You'll find a recipe for it in "The Joy of Cooking”. It calls for one pound of sweet chocolate, 2 cups of warm milk and six egg yolks. Here's how you make it:

Stand facing the stove…

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