I'm intrigued by all these TV ads for a healthful breakfast. Earnest gray-haired ladies entreat me to eat more fiber; carefree girls run several miles on the strength of a pot of yogurt; tanned hunks of masculinity drape themselves on the garden fence eating bowls of bran in the morning dew. How do they do it?

How do they manage without a hot cup of tea or coffee? Wouldn't they really prefer a mixed citrus salad, like the one that follows, with orange, lime, grapefruit, tangerine and any available exotica such as pomelo or ugli fruit? The juice is drawn out simply by macerating overnight with a little sugar -- the best way to ensure a concentrated syrup. For a classic grouping of spring colors, the fruit is topped with a web of candied orange peel julienne.

For a serious start to the day, how about a couple of potato cakes, one mixed with fish and spiced with chili, the other with egg and ham, two classic components of a good breakfast. The potatoes will act as a binder for almost any ingredient you care to think of -- humble cod or haddock, the salmon lingering after a party, a handful of (cooked) green vegetables, a few chopped shrimp. For a crisp crust, the cakes should be fried in oil or bacon fat rather than butter, and amounts can be kept to a minimum by using a nonstick pan.

With spring comes maple syrup, a treat it is a shame to miss, though the sweetness can be cloying. As flavoring for muffins, the taste is just right. Freshly baked and steaming, the aroma flowery but unmistakable, a maple muffin is irresistible. After this kind of breakfast, anyone is ready to face the day! Timetable

With some preparation the day before, half an hour suffices to make the best of hearty breakfasts.

Up to 1 day ahead: Make citrus salad and refrigerate. Make and shape spiced fish cakes and refrigerate. Make and shape egg-and-ham cakes and keep in refrigerator.

The night before: Set the table.

30 minutes before serving: Make and bake muffins.

15 minutes before serving: Spoon fruit salad into bowls, adding julienne. Brew coffee or boil kettle for tea.

5 minutes before serving: Fry fish cakes and egg-and-bacon cakes.

Just before serving: Make tea. CITRUS SALAD WITH GINGER (6 servings)

With the addition of coconut, this salad becomes a version of the famous ambrosia.

2 navel oranges

2 tablespoons sugar, more if needed

2 ounces crystallized ginger root

1 grapefruit

2 limes

1 ugli fruit, pomelo, or 1 more grapefruit

3 tangerines

For candied orange julienne: With a vegetable peeler, thinly pare zest from 2 oranges. Cut zest in the thinnest possible julienne strips with a knife. Blanch julienne by boiling in water 2 minutes and draining. To candy: Put them in a small pan with half the sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until all moisture has evaporated and zests are transparent, 10 to 15 minutes.

To soften ginger root, pour boiling water over it, let stand 5 minutes and drain. Coarsely chop it.

With a serrated knife, cut peel and skin from oranges and grapefruit. Slice into 3/8-inch slices. Repeat with limes, cutting in 1/4-inch slices. Cut peel and skin from ugli fruit or pomelo and from tangerines. Cut out segments, squeezing juices from skin, which is then discarded.

In a bowl layer fruit and ginger with sugar, adding more to taste. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill at least 12 and up to 24 hours. Wrap julienne tightly and refrigerate also.

To serve, spoon fruit into bowls and top with orange julienne. SPICED FISH AND POTATO CAKES (6 servings)

Any coarse-textured fish such as cod, haddock or pompano is good for cakes.

1 pound fish fillets

3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/4 pounds potatoes, cut in large chunks

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red chili pepper

1/4 cup flour, for coating

3 to 4 tablespoons oil, for frying

Lay fish in a baking dish, pour over milk, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover with foil. Bake in a 375-degree oven until fish flakes easily, 15 to 20 minutes.

Put potatoes in cold salted water, cover and simmer until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and crush lightly with a fork, leaving a few lumps.

Flake the fish, discarding skin and bones; reserve cooking liquid. Lightly mix fish with potatoes, chili pepper, salt and pepper, adding enough liquid to bind the mixture. Let mixture cool.

On a floured board, divide mixture into 6 portions and shape into flat cakes 1 inch thick. Cakes can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.

To finish: In a large frying pan, heat oil and fry cakes briskly until golden brown on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes. HAM, EGG AND POTATO CAKES (6 servings)

*A good way to use up scraps of country ham.

1 1/4 pounds potatoes, cut in large chunks

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 pound cooked ham, coarsely chopped

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped parsley or 1 tablespoon chopped chives

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

1/4 cup flour, for coating

3 to 4 tablespoons oil for frying

Put potatoes in cold salted water, cover and simmer until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and crush with a fork, leaving a few lumps.

Mix potatoes with ham, hard-cooked eggs, parsley or chives, pepper, and enough milk to bind the mixture. If the ham is salty, salt may not be needed.

On a floured board, divide the mixture into walnut-sized balls, roll them, then flatten slightly to cakes 1/2-inch thick. Cakes can be made up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.

To finish: Heat half the oil in a frying pan and fry some of the cakes briskly until brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove and keep warm while frying remaining cakes. MAPLE SYRUP MUFFINS (Makes 12 muffins)

In celebration of spring!

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and make a well in the center. In separate bowl whisk egg, milk, syrup and butter until well mixed. Gradually pour into well in flour, stirring lightly just until batter is smooth. Note: If overmixed, the muffins will be tough.

Spoon mixture into 12 greased muffin pans. Bake in a 400-degree oven until muffins are brown and shrink slightly from sides of pans, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve while still warm.