Alarm Clock

Ninety percent of the time, I don't need my alarm.  I know, I'm lucky that way.  But the other 10% of the time, I have my trusty Zen alarm.  It wakes me with a gentle dong, one long, sweet bell.  If that doesn't do the trick, it dongs again in a couple of minutes and repeats, increasing in volume and frequency.  Why this alarm?  Why not wake up gently, letting your body get itself out of its slumber in stages rather than being jolted by a harsh clangor?  For me, it's a no-brainer.  And I find that when I do awaken to the Zen, I am happy to arise and begin breakfast.

Cast Iron Skillet

The one I have is my grandma's.  Its sides are a little deeper than the ones you buy today, but it is basically the same.  I have no idea how long she had this particular skillet, but I do know that she used one a lot, and her cooking was the BEST. 

The pros:
Skillet heats evenly
You can get some good crusties.  That's a technical term.
It is usually non-stick, if it is seasoned well.

The cons:
It is heavy.  Hard to lift and pour out sometimes, especially if you are short and weak, like me.
It has to be washed out by hand and no soap used.
It has to be reseasoned on occasion.  I usually wait longer than I should.

My dad told me once that whenever they would have a burn out at their farm, Grandma would grab the skillet and throw it in to get it re-seasoned. I'm guessing she greased it first.  I just grease mine and stick it in the oven, and that does the trick.

The skillet is awesome for bacon, sausage (getting those good crusties), gravy (scraping up more crusties), and putting a skillet in the oven.

Stainless Steel Bowl (small)

This is for storing bacon grease in your refrigerator.  I used a small empty coffee can in the past, but never really liked the way it got rusty-looking after awhile.  I switched to this bowl recently and like it better.

The bowl is not so much the important part as the bacon grease is.  I don't know what I'd do without it.  Yes, I realize that it's not ideally healthy.  And I really do try to cook and eat very healthy, but there are areas that I'm just not going to compromise, and bacon grease is my line in the sand.

I use olive oil, canola oil, and butter lots more than bacon grease, but when there's a need for bacon grease, there is just no substitute.

Feel better about using it by using better bacon, with as short an ingredient list as you can find.

Orange Peeler Thingy

Burt got me this one Christmas about 20 years ago after we saw it demonstrated by Andy Rooney on 60 minutes.  When I'm going through my orange jag every December, I use it several times a day.  It does make peeling oranges easier, thus making it more likely that I'll eat them.  Elementary.

I dropped mine last week, and the tip broke off, but it still works fairly well.  I was hoping that Santa would put one in my stocking, but we only get switches and coal in this house.

Waffle Iron

I am not a kitchen gadget gal.  I am such a disorganized mess most of the time, that a kitchen full of appliances would be disaster.  But this is one appliance that I bought a few years ago and have never regretted having.  I bought it before I even thought of my Breakfast Campaign.

Waffles elevate the entire breakfast atmosphere.  And they are so much easier to make than pancakes and seem so much more elegant.

There are a multitude of waffle irons out on the market.  Mine is pretty middle of the road.  Nothing fancy about it except that it is non-stick.  Cleanup is a non-issue.

The only downside about waffle irons is that you can only cook one waffle at a time, so everyone is at the table waiting for their waffle.  By the time the last is made, the first eater is ready for seconds, which means that someone (me) doesn't get to sit down and eat until everyone else has had his fill.

A Spreadsheet

It's hard to make a good breakfast day after day if there's not a plan.  The old saw "Failure to plan means planning to fail" rings true even at breakfast.  To make this easier, I use a spreadsheet program to plan out breakfast and dinner each night for two weeks at a stretch.  Then with my plan, I can make a grocery list and get what I need, with lots of pit stops between times for more bananas, milk, and etc.

I pick a time when I'm feeling domestic, and then I sit down with my list (on Exel) of dishes I like to make, both for dinner and breakfast.  The list of dishes also has listed next to them ingredients that I don't always have on hand, things like swiss cheese, leeks, that sort of things.  I don't bother listing the stuff that's always around, like eggs or onions.

After I look at my list, I plug things into my bi-weekly spreadsheet, optimally noting days when we're going to be out of an evening, but I'm usually not that on top of things.  Mondays are always marked off as leftovers, and everyone gets to pick a special meal during the two week cycle.  I fill in the rest. 

Then I look at the dinners and plan breakfasts.  For instance, if Cool Guy wants pancakes for dinner, I'm not making pancakes that morning, but we may them the next day.  Or if we have roast beef for dinner on Sunday, we will be for sure having roast beef hash for breakfast on Monday morning.  I fill in the gaps, and again look at what I have to buy.

The whole operation can take an hour, but it's a pleasant hour, and I only have to do big grocery shopping 26 times a year!

Kitchenaid Stand Mixer

My parents gave me mine 20 years ago, and it is definitely my most useful kitchen appliance.  If I had to choose between it and the microwave, I'd take the mixer.  I don't use it daily, but I bet I use it weekly.  I use it for mixing batters, kneading bread, and I've even used it for mashing potatoes until I could find a hand masher I liked.  While it runs, I can do other things like pour juice or set the table.

Another thing I like about the mixer is that it comes with attachments, and I actually use some.  My dad gave me a meat grinder and a sausage stuffer attachment after we made boudin together once.  I've yet to use the sausage stuffer, but I use the meat grinder on occasion, like to make ham loaf with leftover ham.  I also use the slicer shredder attachment, especially when I'm to slice or shred large quantities of things.  I don't have a food processor, so the attachment speeds things up.  As long as it saves enough time to make up for the cleanup involved, I'm all for it.

I think I'm most appreciative of my mixer when it's time to whip egg whites or heavy cream.  I just wouldn't do anything that called for that if I had to stand around with a hand mixer.  Yes, I'm a wimp.


I've had three different blenders in 25 years and have hated them all: Hamilton Beach, Oster, and Cuisinart.  I turn on the blender and expect things to blend, and I end up spending all my time turning it off, poking around, turning it back on, cursing, and repeating.  Still, I use the blender on a pretty regular basis.

I think I've finally found a blender that will work for me, at a price I can stomach, The Breville Ikon.  It has more horsepower and 6 blades, four of them serrated, and two of them larger than the others.  There are no "dead spots" when it blends, it is fast, and it is quiet.  And, most important, it's easy to clean.  What I've blended so far - smoothies and breadcrumbs - it has done beautifully.

A Kid-Readiness Plan for the Mornings

I can cook a hot, healthy breakfast only if I have co-operation.  If my kids refuse to get out of bed, if I have to stand over them to remind them to brush their teeth, and put on socks and shoes, then there will be no time to make anything.  And we all end up being very frustrated with one another.

We've been down that road.

They DO get out of bed and to the table easier with good breakfast promised, but it's all those little things.  We have solved it (so far) with a customized laminated check-off list for each boy.

We sat down to decide what MUST be done in the morning, and I typed it up (on Exel) and provided a box next to each item for a check to go in.  Then I laminated the sheet, and provided each boy with his own sheet and a dry-erase marker.

Ideally, each boy will use his sheet as he is getting ready in the morning, and will check off the items as they get done: get dressed, brush teeth, put on deoderant, comb hair, you get the idea.  For Encyclopedia, this has worked very well, and I'm not having to send him upstairs 10 times every morning to do something else he forgot to do.  Cool Guy is still working on it, but he knows what's expected, and he knows that if he requires too much mom-supervision, there will be a consequence.

Everybody gets to the table much more quickly now and in a much better mood than before.  It helps so much just to have expectations down in black-and-white, and the permanence of the sheet helps with consistency, too.

Bread Machine

My dad gave me my first and also my second one, and I have loved them both.  I don't actually use it for breakfast dishes, per se, but I often make bread to go with dinner, especially when we have soup, and there is always some bread left over.  And this makes the next morning's breakfast: anything from French toast, to toast and peanut butter, to bread pudding.  All of it is so much better using homemade bread.  In fact, many of those morning treats were invented as ways to use up leftover bread.

Another plus of the bread machine is that I can make whole grain breads, so our French toast is acutally fairly healthy.  And really, all making bread with the machine requires is to remember to get it going.

My current machine is a Breadman, and I like it a lot.  It has, oh, about 12 different settings, and I use exactly one of those, the dough cycle.  After the cycle is done, I take out my dough, shape it in a normal bread pan, let it rise, and then bake it.  That way, we have slices that look the way we want them to look, and not like something out of a MACHINE (which it is.)

The machine is there when I need it, and when I don't have time for bread, I don't.  No guilt.

Vegetable Peeler

I have had a very tough time finding a vegetable peeler that works well.  There are at least two good reasons to have good-working tools.  One reason is to cut down of frustation on my part, and the other, increasingly more important reason is to make it possible for my boys to be able to help me out in the kitchen.  With the old bad peeler and subsequent bad replacement peelers, I was the only one who could scrape a carrot.  With a lot of scraping, I might add.

I finally bought two highly rated peelers through Amazon, and now everyone can peel vegetables with no effort and no frustration.  Here they are.

1. Kitchen Aid peeler

2. Kuhn Pirhana Peeler

I like the Kuhn slightly better.  It has a serrated edge and gives a nice thin peel.  But the Kitchen Aid is also fantastic and so much better than anything you would find at the grocery store, and for only about two dollars more.

Be it peeler, grater, can opener, whatever, you owe it to yourself to find what works well and cut out those little things that annoy and make your job less fun.

Toaster Oven

The Breville Smart Oven, which you can read about in this post, is not a complete necessity.  After all, you most likely already have an oven, a microwave, and a toaster.  However, IMHO, the toaster oven does the jobs of all three of those things better.

Now, if my family was 6 or so instead of 4, I wouldn't have much use for it, as most oven cooking would need to be bigger than what I do, but for us, the toaster oven is the first recourse for oven, and our only recouse for heating up leftovers and toasting bread and bagels.

I love it, and don't miss a microwave or toaster (and subsequently the counter space of two appliances) at all.  You just can't beat bread with peanut butter toasted top and bottom, with a little browning going on with the peanut butter.  Just can't beat it.