Culinary Confessions: What I Ate in a Week

Culinary Confessions

“Culinary Confessions” is a series that opens the books on our eating habits and shares our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you.

Taking care of our bodies is an inexact science. While we can guesstimate the nutritional data of our food and exercise, we can’t possibly track the numbers flawlessly unless we own extensive medical equipment.

We can, however, keep a pretty good diary of what we’re eating and how much we’re exercising to get a better grasp on our health status and needs. That’s a practice I’ve adopted in the past year as I’ve targeted better overall health, and it’s a disciplined process that’s helped me lose more than 75 pounds and more than a few inches off my once-concerning waistline.

This diary tracks and reveals to you everything—and I mean everything—I ate during one whole week, Monday to Sunday in late January and early February. While the exact meals I consume vary widely from week to week sometimes, this is a pretty standard summary of how I eat in a week at this time in my life.

Before we get to business, here are a just a couple of things to understand about what you read below.

MAKE THE MOST OF IT: You’ll notice what might seem to you like some random meal choices at points, such as homemade meatloaf sliders, and you should know that this reflects my creative approach to cooking. We do not waste food in our house. I repeat: We do not waste food in our house. Period. If something does go bad, we throw it out. Otherwise, we eat all leftover homemade food, and we take to-go boxes for our restaurant leftovers and then consume them later. You waste a lot of money if you leave food on the table, and you’re squandering valuable opportunities to cut down on having to come up with new meals from scratch, either from a restaurant or your own kitchen. The leftover meatloaf became easy sandwiches nearly a week after the first meal was made.

THE HOME-COOKED ADVANTAGE: You’ll note that some meals, snacks and desserts are simple foods that have easily countable/quantifiable calories, while others do not. This reflects the importance of eating whole foods and making food at home. Dining out often leads to a tremendous increase in calories and other nutritional data such as sodium. When I eat out, many restaurants don’t provide me with calorie, fat, sugar and other numbers to report them exactly. Sure, My Fitness Pal and other tracking apps can estimate, but a cheeseburger at one restaurant and a cheeseburger at another will differ in nutrition facts. Of course fast food restaurants and some others do provide certain data you can plug into your diet diary.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: You’ll see that I only eat out a couple times—at most—in a week. Normally, I eat one meal from a restaurant in a given week. That gives me better control over what I’m putting into my body because I’m making most things from scratch at home. However, in addition to a couple of restaurant meals on this particular week, two things impacted my diet diary. I ate one additional meal and dessert on Friday evening at my parents’ house that was outside my normal simple eating plan, and the Sunday on this week happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. On that day, I allowed a little more #FoodieScore freedom and snacking than on a normal day.

THE RIGHT FORMULA: Finally, please understand that I do not subscribe to any kind of belief or plan that counting calories or eating only certain foods will by itself help you improve your health. I do not endorse Weight Watchers or any fad diet. Instead, I believe awareness of what we eat is our greatest ally, because it allows us to balance our eating with our exercise in order to be healthier than we would be if we just ate what we want every time we want. I do have a short list of nutrient-friendly foods I highly recommend as the basis for a better diet if you’ve struggled with choices and portions as I have for many years. These foods are low in calories and sugars, while high in other beneficial nutrients.

In the end, doing the best you can to make more good food choices while also exercising consistently is the best equation for healthier living, and I’ve seen proof of that in the past year as I’ve dropped 25 percent of my body weight with that approach.



* I have included calorie information below where possible. If you’re interested in more specifics about calories for certain items, comment below or email me. I’d be glad to share what I know!


Day 1—Monday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ½ cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 teaspoon honey, 1 banana and water (261 calories total)

Lunch – 2 pieces 12-grain dry toast, 2 steamed egg whites, 1 raw chopped carrot and water (284 calories total)

Snack – ½ cup dark chocolate hummus, 7 butter crackers (222 calories total)

Dinner – 1 grilled chicken breast, cooked spinach, brown rice, dinner roll and water (450 calories total)

Dessert – homemade chocolate pudding with vanilla wafers (300 calories total)



Day 2—Tuesday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ½ cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 teaspoon honey and 1 teaspoon flax seed, 1 banana, 1 cup Greek yogurt and water (381 calories total)

Lunch – 1 piece 12-grain dry toast, 2 steamed egg whites, veggie straw chips and water (284 calories total)

Snack – ¼ cup pecan halves (200 calories)

Dinner – 1 grilled chicken breast on 1 sandwich bun with 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce, ¼ cup sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, 1 serving of mac and cheese, 1 serving of baked beans and water (950 calories total)

Dessert – 1 slice Atlantic Beach (lemon) pie with ¼ cup 2 percent milk


Day 3—Wednesday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ½ cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 teaspoon honey and ¼ cup pecan halves, and water (371 calories total)

Snack – 1 cup black coffee with 1 cup 2 percent milk and 1 1/3 tablespoons instant mocha mix for iced coffee (192 calories total)

Lunch – ½ cup cooked, seasoned beef with sautéed onions in 1 hot dog bun with 1 raw chopped carrot and water (350 calories total)

Snack – 5 saltine crackers with 2 tablespoons peanut butter (230 calories total)

Dinner – 1 seasoned grilled chicken breast and sautéed onions with ½ cup shredded cheese and black beans on two flour tortillas, and water (690 calories total)

Dessert – ½ cup Oreo mint chip ice cream (400 calories)


Day 4—Thursday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ¼ cup plain oatmeal made with water and 1 small banana, Belgian waffle with ½ tablespoon butter and a honey syrup drizzle, with a no-sugar iced coffee of black coffee with ¼ cup milk (580 calories total)

Lunch – 1 can tuna with no extra seasoning and 5 butter crackers, 1 serving unsalted peanuts and water (380 calories total)

Dinner – 2 fried eggs, 2 dinner rolls with 2 tablespoons apple butter, 2 slices low-sodium bacon, 1 cup grits cooked with milk and butter, unsweet tea (702 calories total)

Dessert – 2 small Nutella pecan cupcakes (350 calories total)



Day 5—Friday

EXERCISE: Walked 4 miles

Breakfast – 1 cup blackberry Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon flax seed and 2 cups coffee with light cream (150 calories total)

Lunch – Kim’s Kitchen cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo, and fried squash with ranch dip, and water

Dessert – 1 cup homemade peach cobbler

Dinner – mixed salad with cheese and light ranch dressing, 1 toasted croissant with honey butter, and water

Dessert – homemade banana pudding


Day 6—Saturday

EXERCISE: Walked 1 mile

Breakfast – 1 square homemade Belgian waffle with 1 teaspoon honey syrup and 1 strip low-sodium bacon and black coffee (110 calories total)

Snack – Downtown Deli & Donuts peanut butter and jelly doughnut with ½ cup coffee with light cream and 1 sugar

Lunch – Willy Taco blue corn tortilla chips and salsa, 1 crispy avocado taco and 1 Carolina BBQ taco, and water

Dinner – 1 mug tomato soup made with milk, toasted cheese sandwich made with 1 piece cheddar in toaster oven, and unsweet tea (425 calories total)



Day 7—Sunday

EXERCISE: Walked 2 miles

Breakfast – latte made with black coffee and three tablespoons cream, ½ cup plain oatmeal made with water (300 calories total)

Lunch – leftover meatloaf sliders with mozzarella cheese on browned rolls, 1 hot dog on 1 bun with mustard, French fries and unsweet tea

Dessert – 2 small homemade rice cereal treats

Snack – homemade party mix

Dinner – 3 slices homemade pizza with bacon, and unsweet tea

Dessert – homemade peach cobbler with one scoop vanilla ice cream


Do you track what you eat and how you exercise? We’d love to learn about your approach to healthy eating. Share your story with us in the comments on this post, on our Facebook page, or by emailing us here. Thanks so much for reading and eating with us!

Grandma’s Sweet Baked Stickies

Grandma's Stickies

If you could meet and eat with one person who’s ever lived on this earth, who would it be?

My answer’s easy. It’s my grandma, Lois McCombs Tessnear, my dad’s mom.

I’ve not yet met her, but I will someday. She passed away three years before I was born. But I think of her often, including every time I bake in our home kitchen.

My mom and dad tell me Grandma was a very good cook and that one of the things she made was what they called “Stickies,” biscuits sweetened with vanilla and sugar. Along with World War II era letters she exchanged with my grandpa Harry and the homestead they settled that remains in our family, the Stickies are one of the things I have with which to remember Grandma.

I recently got her Stickies in my mind and had to make some. Of course I thought about Grandma as I shaped the dough, flavored it, and slid the Stickies in and out of the oven.

I’m certain my Stickies don’t compare to hers. How many cooks can say their creations live up to the legendary dishes of the family members who came before them? But I’m thankful I can make something tasty that will always remind me of a woman whose life led to mine and who I’m told was as sweet as these warm, sugary, vanilla-flavored biscuit rolls.

Here’s how I suggest you make your own Stickies in seven simple steps.

1. Start with my wife Molly’s simple biscuit dough recipe.

2. Once you’ve formed the dough into a big ball, roll it out on a floured surface.

3. Cover it with vanilla and granulated sugar (you could also use brown sugar for a very different flavor) to your liking. My dad always says you can’t add too much vanilla and sugar, so don’t get too concerned about measurements on this step.

4. Roll the flat dough up by folding it toward you in one long roll.

5. Slice the dough into thin pieces that will remind you of the shape of uncooked cinnamon rolls.

6. Place them an inch or so apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

7. Bake on 425 to 450 for about 10 minutes. Time will vary, depending on your oven. We suggest you don’t overcook them so they come out nice and soft and gooey.

Enjoy, and be sure to share your Stickies with us on social media using the hashtag #FoodieScore!

Sweet & Savory Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is the epitome of the old saying, “It is whatever you make of it.” As long as it involves some kind of chicken and a mixture of other ingredients, it can probably be classified as chicken salad, but all chicken salads are definitely not created equal.

I’ve always preferred a sweet chicken salad with a bit of crunch to it. What I’ve found over time is that grapes add the sweetness I like, while thinly chopped almonds supply the proper crunch. Many folks add celery to chicken salad, which gives you a kind of crunch, but it also alters the flavor to produce a certain “bite” that I’m not always fond of.

After a little experimenting in the kitchen to get just the right mixture, here’s the #FoodieScore chicken salad recipe we have come to love. Sometimes we’ve used can chicken, which works extremely well for simplicity or in a pinch, but we’ve discovered that the freshness of leftover rotisserie-style chicken is even more flavorful and hearty. We’re also fond of boneless chicken breasts that have been boiled, shredded by hand and then incorporated into chicken salad.

This chicken salad recipe, which will serve about 4, is delicious in on simple white bread, on fresh, lightly toasted croissants, or as more of a dip on a plate with your favorite crackers or chips. Enjoy!

Ingredients (Just blend together well)

1 ½ cups (or 12.5 ounces) shredded chicken

1/2 cup Duke’s mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped red grapes (any color is fine, but red can add a nice pop visually)

1 tablespoon chopped almonds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mae’s Sweet Coconut Pie

Coconut Pie 1

My wife Molly’s great-grandmother Mae is 98 years old. She’s one of the kindest women I’ve ever met, and I’ll never forget her sweet laugh and smile. It’s likely Mae is also one of the smallest and toughest women I’ve ever met. Well into her 90s, she mowed her own grass around her home and drove a golf cart through the woods to her church in the mountains of east-central Alabama!

It’s well known in the family that Mae has long championed eating what her body tells her it needs and wants. That mentality tells me her approach to food is deeply spiritual, which fits with the great faith by which she lives her life.

Mae wedding

Aunt Mae (left) traveled to North Carolina in January 2015, at the age of 95, to attend our wedding. (Photo by Ben Earp Photography)

We find great joy in being family with Aunt Mae, as we call her, and we take great pride in sharing this recipe for her Coconut Pie. Molly’s mother recently shared the recipe with us after a visit to see Mae in Alabama, and we tried the pie soon afterward. With each step, and then with each bite, I thought about how much of a blessing Mae’s 98 years have been for all who have known her. She continues to bless us with her example of faith and with her food, including this Coconut Pie. It’s light and sweet inside, with a strong exterior around the edges, just like Aunt Mae.

Coconut Pie 2

We know God made a special woman in Mae. Here’s how you can make her pie.


What You Need:

¼ cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 cup milk

¼ cup self-rising flour

1 can (3.5 ounces) coconut (About ½ cup)

What You Do:

1. Cream together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer.

2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after both.

3. Add the milk, flour and coconut, and mix well.

4. Pour into a lightly greased pie pan.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until set. In our oven, we needed only 40 minutes.

Foodie Travels: Allen & Son Barbeque, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Allen & Son barbeque

Allen & Son Barbeque serves one of the best Southern meals you’ll find anywhere. We won’t back down from that statement at any cost. In a state divided by preferences over barbecue styles, Allen & Son cooks up some of the best pig we’ve eaten anywhere. The sides are also fresh. The tea is sweet and plentiful. And you can’t beat the homemade desserts, especially the pies. Oh, my, how we love the pies. As our waitress told us, “if a pie looks perfect it’s not homemade.” Well, it may not have looked perfectly symmetrical on every side, but it sure tasted perfect!

Allen & Son Blueberry Pie

This legendary eatery on the north side of Chapel Hill, on the left if you’re headed from Interstate 40 toward Hillsborough, greets you with checkered tablecloths and a simple dining room. When we see checkered tablecloths, we know we’re usually in an old-fashioned joint that focuses most of all on its food and service. And that’s just what we got at Allen & Son. We’d heard great things, and the place downright delivered at every turn. That started with sweet tea that was so dark we knew it had been steeped a long time, just how we like it, with plenty of sweetness, and a jug for refills just for our table.

Allen & Son tea

Of course we sampled the pork barbeque, as Allen & Son spells it, and it was chopped up in nice big chunks, meaty, seasoned to a perfect vinegary flavor and containing wonderful little pieces of crispy brown skin throughout. Our plate came with coleslaw, delicious hushpuppies and a soft, yeast roll perfect for cradling a few bites of pork.

We also sampled a cheeseburger, and we were blown away by it, so much that we dare say the Allen & Son burger is one of the top five we’ve had anywhere in the South! And we eat a lot of cheeseburgers. The meat was plentiful and clearly hand-pattied, something we expect of an all-time great burger. The cheese was melty. The bun was soft and big enough for the sandwich. And the toppings of chili, mustard and onions blew our tastebud doors right off! Pretty darn near close to burger perfection, that Allen & Son cheeseburger.

Allen & Son Cheeseburger

After our main course, we knew we were going to enjoy some pie. We just didn’t know how much. We ordered one piece of chocolate and one piece of blueberry, both with a scoop of homemade ice cream. There’s no doubt the ice cream was homemade, as it contained the little icy shavings characteristic of home-churned ice cream. The berries were fresh and flavorful. And the chocolate was rich and decadent. We savored every bite until it was all gone.

Allen & Son Chocolate Pie

Our service was fast at Allen & Son, and our waitress was quick to make suggestions to better our meal and our experience. We’ll be back here every time we visit Chapel Hill or pass by on the way east or west on I-40. Chapel Hill is a food town, full of amazing places to get a great meal, but Allen & Son just might be our favorite foodie stop of all. Don’t dare miss it if you’re anywhere nearby! It’s the definition of a #FoodieScore.

Allen & Son BBQ

Allen & Son Barbeque, 6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill, N.C.