Never, Ever … Buy or Eat the Big, Tasteless Ones

Sandra Neily here.

My family and friends have given me a reputation for quick or novel fixes to create strategies that add “yum!” to food. My sisters still call me in the middle of gravy-making as that’s always a daunting thing. I love that. (Scroll down for gravy and more tips.)

(And right now, I am writing a character …Patton … who’s hiding out in a hunting tree stand, eating moose jerky and drinking rainwater, so I get no vicarious food-joy from the keyboard.)

The kids Thanksgiving table with siblings and cousins. Long ago. I am in the headband front left. High school.

I’ve collected some of my go-to tips to share with you during feasting season. And below, look for more info on Maine berries and how to find them.


Better cornbread, muffins, even brownies. Put a couple of very heaping tablespoons of yogurt in all muffin and cornbread recipes (mashed banana too; I keep ‘dead’ ones in the freezer in their skins). Makes everything wonderfully moist: cornbread is fabulous this way.

Bob will eat fruit salad. Except for bananas, cut up fruit works for most of them. Stuff is camouflaged.

Quick Fruit Salad. Well, there’s a prerequisite. Always have Wyman’s Wild Blueberries and unsweetened whole strawberries in the freezer. (Big, non-Maine, or generic-brand blueberries not allowed. Tasteless.) I combine the frozen fruit with fresh: apples cut into small bite-size pieces, orange or Clementine sections (cut up if large). Great way to use up sad-looking fruit. My guilty pleasure: fresh raspberries (can be frozen if not used in a few days). I heat, cut up, and mash strawberries to create more juice. Add some fruit juice of any kind for more moisture. (Juice acid keeps fruit from going brown.) I sweeten with bit of real maple syrup, but you don’t need to. Done in 10-15 minutes; lasts about a week. Is it getting a big old? Toss in a blender with yogurt for a yum smoothie. Eat on Giffords Vanilla ice cream.  (More berry uses: warm strawberries on waffles or pancakes. Blueberries get tossed into yogurt or into pan drippings from chicken, turkey, or pork for a yummy sauce.)

Muffins as matrix.  I cannot eat most commercial muffins as they do not apply this mantra: the flour stuff should never overcome the guts of a muffin. I like 3-berry muffins (2 will do but Wyman’s has a great 3 berry frozen product). Add about a good cup of frozen blueberries (dust w flour before adding). Add raspberries and whole cranberries.

just harvested cranberries at LYNCH HILL FARMS, Harrington, ME

           (I buy whole cranberries in the fall and freeze them. Good for years! Craisins too sugary.) Of course, I add some yogurt (any kind) and a mashed banana, sometimes a handful of oatmeal (any kind). I don’t always add all this, but sometimes I live dangerously. And there’s always chocolate chips for grandkids. Or Bob.

My dear friend Leslie is very excited about this ONE (one!) kale plant from her garden. It’s headed into her freezer so she can trick me this winter. She knows I am not excited.

Impress ‘em salad dressing. Take any Italian or Balsamic dressing. Add a bit of soy sauce, lumps of Grey Poupon mustard and mix vigorously. Heat a couple of generous spoons of honey until it bubbles. Add and mix forcefully. (Finely minced garlic is welcome, too.) Pour on. Got bitter lettuce? Add warm honey to whatever you dressed it with, just before serving. (I think I could eat kale salad if folks used honey.)

Fast coleslaw. Buy a bag of undressed mixed slaw of any kind. Add bit of mayonnaise (not much!), warmed-up raisins or Craisons, bit of maple syrup (honey), and use mostly any kind of Italian dressing. Should not be a mayo-fest; use only a little bit as a binder. Even folks who hate coleslaw seem to like this. Is my go-to camping salad; undressed, vacuum-packed slaw lasts pretty long in coolers.

Homemade duck sauce. Heat good-brand marmalade with soy sauce and a bit of butter (just a bit for a binder). Yummy for a dip or add-in for anything Asian. I think it’s better than any store brand.

Revive your rotisserie chicken (or poultry). Marmalade again. In a fry pan, some marmalade again with some soy sauce and a bit more butter this time.  Add slices of leftover (and usually dry) chicken/turkey.

Quick potatoes. Keep a few cans of whole, white potatoes in the pantry. When stuck for a side dish, drain, slice them angular and a bit chunky, and fry in butter with generous salt and pepper until getting a bit brown. Hide the cans, no one will know … (Also a camping go-to thing.)

I will never, ever top my daughter’s cranberry coffee cake. Looks like she was well aware of that. Yum.

OK, the gravy. Have a lemon on hand in case your bird is stingy. The trick is to cook the flour so it does not taste starchy. Make a roux by leaving a couple of tablespoons of juice/fat in the pan. Reserve the rest. Add 1 tablespoon of flour for each tablespoon of pan juice (1/1 ratio). Stirring vigorously over good heat, cook the flour mixture even as you scrape bird bits off the sides of the pan. After a few minutes of cooking (bubbling a bit), when it looks like brown/tan waffle batter (will be thick), add back the rest of the juices and stir. I slowly add in liquid (and also a bit of milk … not much) to get the sauce consistency I want. If the juices are kind of tasteless, very slowly add a bit of lemon and a bit of soy sauce (just bits!) until you get a flavor you can live with. During one desperate TDay, I also used orange juice to save the gravy. It turned out to be kind of elegant and delicious.

Camping no-fridge tips: cucumbers, sliced very thin replace lettuce in sandwiches. The long wrapped ones last better. Vacuum-packed, sliced deli ham lasts forever even in wet cooler bottoms so sandwiches can happen after many days. And vacuum-packed thick, dinner ham is still great even if floating in cooler’s bottom: great on the grill. I fry up a few apples and add raisins picked out of the gorp to make a compote to go on top of the ham.

Canned French-cut beans on grill: arrange big double pieces of tin foil. Drain beans. Spread in a thick line down middle of the foil. Add salt, pepper, butter, and I use lots of fresh Parmesan cheese. Roll up, tuck ends up (up!) carefully. Heat, always folded side up … do not turn … at end of the grill, moving package around a bit. (I always grate Parmesan before a trip and put in an airtight jar. Lasts in cooler. Makes everything better: eggs/omelets, soups, noodles, old bread on the grill….be inventive. (Ick on the prepared parm; has cellulose.)


BERRIES, BERRIES …Maine ones of course. (Wyman’s will be in your store’s freezer section.)

Get Maine berries from Lynch Hill Farms.

Find the famous Wyman’s brand selling more blueberry products here.

Here’s the Wyman’s story.  And an amazing how-they-do-it video.  The company has flourished over 148 years, growing from a scrappy little fish cannery to the largest brand of frozen fruit in the U.S. Wyman’s processes up to 2.3 million pounds of wild blueberries a day. The company employs 200 people year-round, and more than 500 during the summer harvest. More than a third of employees have a tenure of more than a decade ….

A Sandy note about finding Wyman’s home: In October, during our last camper outing to check out Donnell Pond public lands (just inland from Acadia), we drove through many small Maine towns. They look like the towns of my Boothbay youth. We found Milbridge, a very small, small Maine town where the Narraguagus River meets the sea. The Wyman’s sign just outside of town had us stopping in the unassuming parking lot filled with well-used trucks and well-used family cars. We were amazed by the size of the building and left with a new appreciation of how berries in our freezer … the ones that would fill muffins, pancakes, and fruit salads … the berries sent all over the world … came from this tucked-away part of Maine. Treat yourself and watch the factory video.

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2023. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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8 Responses to Never, Ever … Buy or Eat the Big, Tasteless Ones

  1. chickadee04287 says:

    So many great cooking tips! I’m going to add yogurt to my next batch of cornmeal muffins. Coleslaw in a bag will be going on our next camping trip. I think I will just print this whole post and put it on my fridge. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thank you, chickadee,! I started using up yogurt in cooking to avoid eating it (when roommates bought it, long ago). Now a spoonful of Stoney Field vanilla is almost as good as chocolate. (Almost.) Thanks for your enthusiasm. Happy to share what’s till good in the cooler bottom. S

  2. Kate Flora says:

    Wow. What fun. I am especially excited about the duck sauce as I am always looking for it for my chicken wings recipe. As for the kale monster? Not so much.

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks, Kate! Now I will need your chicken wings recipe. I think I am not a good enough football buddy for Bob. Chicken wings might really be the ticket. (Think there’s a large Kale ick club out there. Good to know you are in it.)

  3. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Many thanks for these fabulous tips! All valuable – this post is a keeper, for sure. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  4. Judy Alter says:

    Thanks for some really useful tips. i especially like the grilled green beans and the canned potatoes. My family will thank you. and I’m with you on the kale–I once read the way to cook kale is to put some coconut oil in the skillet with it. it makes it easier to slide it into the garbage.

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