PhotoYou know how consumers are always complaining that appliances were built better back in the day? It's pretty hard to disagree with that, especially when such simple devices as coffee makers and toasters -- the basic elements of breakfast -- have become so short-lived.

Read the reviews on our site about Cuisinart and other high-priced coffee makers and you'll see why so many of us have gone back to buying the most basic Mr. Coffee. It's not great but it's cheap to replace.

It's hard to be quite so accepting of faulty toasters, however. After all, a toaster is a pretty simple device. All we ask is that it apply enough heat for the right amount of time to turn bread into toast. This is something any Boy Scout learns to do with nothing but a campfire and a loaf of bread, so how hard can it be?

This topic came alive for me a few months ago when I popped a few pieces of sourdough into the anonymous white toaster in the kitchen, to be greeted a few minutes later by screeching smoke alarms and clouds of black smoke.

The toaster, later identified as a Proctor-Silex Cool-Touch, had lost its cool and had been transformed into a bread executioner. No matter the setting, it immolated whatever came its way. The history of this toaster is unknown. No one could remember where it came from, what it cost or how old it was but it was clearly past its prime. (There was a recall of "fire-prone" Procter-Silex toasters a few years ago, it turns out.)

Disturbed and dismayed by this unexpected development, I beat it over to Sunrise Highway and dashed into the nearest big box store. When making purchases, I try to not study the options too closely, preferring to make the same mistakes a distracted consumer might make, hoping to at least get a story out of any misadventure that may follow. Also, I really hate stores.

An Oster toaster

Thus, without paying much attention, I grabbed a stainless steel Oster toaster. Besides its melodically rhyming name, the Oster had controls for various toasting options -- bagels, bread, frozen, etc. 

The next morning, two pieces of sourdough went into the Oster and soon out came two pieces of what might be called bread toast -- toasted on one side, pristine on the other. I tried every possible combination with the controls, none of which actually seemed to do anything.

There are two sides to this story, all right. One is that the outside heating elements work. The other is that the inside heating elements don't.

Things could always be worse, of course. Robyn of Redding, Calif., had an Oster toaster too. Here's what happened to her

Toaster caught fire for no reason. I lost my whole kitchen because I was upstairs sleeping at the time. I lost everything I owned in the kitchen. Most of my belongings throughout the house were ruined from smoke damage or from the firefighters tearing through it. I had to move out of my apartment witch was declared uninhabitable and was homeless for 3 months. On top of it all my landlord kept $1000 from my deposit for "fire Damage."

Finally, after a year or so of having to toast everything twice, I decided that instead of dashing into the nearest store and grabbing the first toaster I saw, I would try to be a wise consumer and would spend a little extra time and money, in hopes of getting something that would a.) work, b.) not burn the house down and c.) last longer than a month.

Sticker shock

I went to Amazon.com and did a search for toasters, filtering by price from high to low, thinking perhaps I would spring for something a little costlier than usual.

PhotoFirst up was a mint green Dualit two-slice toaster. The price: $254.19. I was feeling profligate but not stupid, so, paging down a bit, I came to the DeLonghi Kmix two-slice toaster, priced at $99.94 for the stainless steel model. It would have been $99.95 for a yellow one. I could afford the extra cent but who really wants a yellow toaster? Anyway, it's a truly ridiculous price to pay for a toaster but at least it's under $100, right? 

Ordering was only half the challenge. It took days for the FedEx guy to figure out which door to knock on. Thanks to Superstorm Sandy, our Long Island condo is somethiing of a wreck. The signs that used to point to floors 1 and 2 were blown away when the wall they were mounted on collapsed. The wall has since been replaced but the sign hasn't.

It's pretty clear, though. The first floor is the one on the bottom -- you know, the wet one. The second floor, the DeLonghi's new home, is upstairs. It took a few days to get that straightened out. I got to know Karen at FedEx through our frequent calls. She seemed more exasperated than I was by the driver's mental shortcomings.

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DeLonghi in situ

Finally, as I sat typing a few feet from the door, my cellphone chirped, informing me the package had been delivered, and sure enough, there it was, waiting sheepishly.

The initial trial run went fine. There was no sourdough left but I put in a couple of pieces of Trader Joe's Tuscan Whole Wheat Pane and it actually came out as toast a minute or so later.

Case closed. For now, anyway. 


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