"What's in the box?"

"And why the heck do we have 8,000 pounds of apples and carrots?"

"Aha," I said, rubbing my hands together like a criminal mastermind. "Prepare for an onslaught of nutrition!"

"Oh boy," said my children. They were hopeful, but they had been through this before.

"No, really, it's going to be delicious! We're going to be ridiculously healthy!"

We would, I knew we would. When I opened the box, I would unleash a new era of fruit and vegetable consumption. Eyes would be brighter and tails bushier; it was a sure thing!

With a knife, I slit the packing tape, tugged at the cardboard and prepared to unleash a torrent of nutrients. It was a familiar scene, really.

Periodically, as my tolerant family can testify, I am gripped with a kind of culinary mania. Sometimes it comes on when I have had glancing contact with a particularly complicated or tasty foodstuff. Sometimes the seeds of madness are planted by the arrival of a Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table catalogue.

Whatever the cause, the illness plays out with what I like to think is endearing predictability. My long-suffering husband might use the adjective "expensive," instead, but he, like the rest of the people in the household, manages to stay pretty good-natured about it all. They get to eat the results of whatever food has seized my attention, after all. The trouble is, as they would tell it, they have to keep eating it, over and over until the fever passes.

Once I bit into a crisp, spicy samosa. It led to weeks of fantasizing about all the goodies I could make if I owned a deep fat fryer -- doughnuts! tempura! -- which led, as day follows night and as a credit card bill follows the use of a credit card, to an online purchase. The fat fryer was fun but a pain to clean; then we lost the little rubber plug that kept the oil from rushing out on to the floor, and I gave the thing away to a friend who felt up to finding another plug.

We ate grilled sandwiches -- and grilled eggplant! and zucchini! and chicken! -- in their thousands after I became ensorcelled by a panini-maker. That was an excellent time, which lasted until the jaws of the grill became wearied, and the thing fell apart. There was no need to replace it, because the infatuation had by then faded away.

The bread machine kept an especially prolonged grip on my heart. I wore the first one out, replaced it and, to my dismay, found that my heart wasn't really in the whole yeast-and-gluten business anymore. We've had a brief ice cream-maker phase, and the longer fresh pasta phase. "Not pasta again!" the children began saying in blank horror when they came into the kitchen to find me gaily draping lengths of Italian genius to dry on the mop handle. To this day, I continue to fight periodic attacks of desire for a waffle iron. But think of it -- sweet waffles! savory waffles! Belgian waffles! -- breakfast would never be ordinary again.

I wonder if there is something peculiarly American in the belief that an appliance has the power to create a whole way of life. As the car created the fast-food industry (not such a great thing, really), so could a waffle iron turn a normal breakfast into a glorious culinary celebration. It could, couldn't it?

"What's all that racket?" said my son, coming into the kitchen. With the help of a daughter, I had disinterred the new machine and set it running.

"Sweet nectar of life," I said, handing him a small glass of strange, frothy green liquid.

"It's our juicer," said the daughter, indicating the stacks of waiting cucumbers, carrots, beets, apples, mangoes and grapefruit.

"Weird," he said, knocking the drink back and shrugging. "Maybe not so much celery next time."

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.