The shrill BEEEEEEEEEP of the smoke alarm spurred me into rushing down the stairs, through the family room and into the kitchen.
Katy and Matt were watching for me, ready to shout in unison as they sat at the kitchen table. It was a running family joke.
"Dad's cooking again!"
I always hated that terrible toaster. I could never figure out the right setting.
The toast was either too dark, too light or something got stuck when I popped in a waffle and ran upstairs to multitask as I got four children ready for school.
I often ended up burning my fingers in an effort to pry out smoldering bagels, toast or waffles. And there was the mad waving of the dishtowel under the smoke alarm to try to make it stop beeping. But that was several years ago.
Toaster No. 2 has been better. Four slots instead of two have helped. But it seemed like just a few months after we got it, this toaster also began playing tricks.
Two of its four slots cook on only one side. I can't seem to remember which slots work I'm a little tired of playing three-card monte with a heartless white kitchen appliance for my breakfast. So I recently decided to look into getting Toaster No. 3.
Krups, which is famous for its stylish, elegant coffeemakers, has a new toaster that caught my eye the ToastControl Digital, which sells for about $79.
It gets its name from its touch-pad control panel, which features an easy-to-read digital display screen. You can set the controls for bagels, defrosting, reheating and shade.
There's also a little feature right out of a NASA launch pad. It's called "Countdown to Toast," which gives you the seconds left until your breakfast pops up.
It uses "Advanced Quartz Heating Technology" to quickly and evenly distribute the heat.
Krups claims it toasts up to 30 times faster than conventional metal wire toasters.
I've often thought about getting a toaster oven, so I checked into the ProChef Digital from Krups. Its best technical feature is its electronic control panel, which lets you easily select the cooking mode for all kinds of foods even small pizzas.
Toasting the microchip
Some toasters these days are turning to microchips to keep people like me from setting off smoke alarms and maiming English muffins.
For example, the folks at Proctor Silex have inserted a microchip in their Model 22447 2 Slice SmartToast Toaster.
It's designed to provide for consistent toasting and to automatically shut down if it gets too hot. (See www.proctorsilex.com/ps/ ).
I checked on epinions.com and found one person called the Cuisinart Custom Control Total Touch 2-Slice Electronic Toaster CPT-60 "the Lexus of toasters."
The Cuisinart, at close to $80, seems smart. It has a "browning memory" and a control panel that lets you perfectly time your toast.
Toasters seem to be getting more intelligent. Someday, you might be able to read your e-mail on a piece of toast. Or see this morning's headlines.
A British industrial design student has turned some heads by creating "toasty," a toaster that prints a weather forecast on your toast through browning. (See www.brunel.ac.uk/~dt97rrs/project%20report.htm).
"Toasty" takes weather information from the Internet and then browns the bread in the toaster with an image of the morning's weather.
It uses stencils to represent sunny, cloudy or rainy weather. The stencils could be refined to show weather maps, text and even advertising on your slice of bread, according to a BBC News Online report.
The way it works is that when the bread is inserted, it browns up like any other toaster. But in the last 20 to 30 seconds, a small motor rolls out the appropriate stencil, which blocks the final toasting.
To get the forecast, "toasty" has a modem inside that takes it to a Web site that sends it the latest forecast. So far, "toasty" is still in development.
I'm still not sure which toaster model to get.
But with a smarter toaster, the running family gag about me setting off the smoke alarm may finally be over. And I could toast to that.