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What can you do to eat healthier?

Adam: Yeah, right. Yeah, there’s kind of — I mean, I feel like there is, when it comes to doing these things and thinking about being efficient with our food, it feels like generationally we’ve lost that efficiency, that, “I’m planning my meals out because I might not have access to this.” You were talking a little bit about the supply chain for food and how we have these fresh fruits and stuff that are cheaper and on the shelves in the summer, but these non-perishable foods are available all the time because they’re kind of ready to ship, and there’s a big difference there. Our culture and our economy is sort of demanding, in a way that might cause food to cost more. Correct? The fact that we can get bananas year-round, it’s a new thing. It’s not that… that hasn’t existed for a very long time, right? 

Jeff: Sure, absolutely. And yeah, whenever we have to ship those bananas from Hawaii or some tropical region, there’s a lot of fuel and transportation costs associated with that. And then when we get these, experience these times of high prices and gas, or the volatility of those prices, it impacts everything, all of our food. Transportation and warehousing storage, and you name it. And that’s why, oftentimes, I hear people encourage ’em to eat local and eat in the seasons. I can always think about seasonal foods like the Girl Scout cookie effect. They come around once a year and boy do they taste good. You look forward to ’em. And so we need to get used to eating seasonal. Right now in the markets, we have a lot of fresh asparagus coming in, fresh chives, spring lamb, and it’s getting used to looking forward to those items as we progress through the seasons. Strawberries will be next in June, and then the summer bounty will begin to be harvested. 

Adam: For you, in a perfect world, does that sort of thing become more normalized? Do people start to eat more in cycles than eat on demand? In terms of that. 

Jeff: Working in some fine dining restaurants, we’re all about quality, and so we were very much in tune with the seasonal cycles, and we took advantage of those and celebrated them on the menus. Now, we didn’t have the constraints of a set menu. Our menus would change daily depending on what was available in the markets or what was fresh and good quality. We’re actually blessed to live here in Michigan. We have a wide variety of agriculture that’s grown in the state. We do a lot of beans, apples, cherries, all the fruit that grows on the western side of the state, and Lake Michigan kind of gives it a nice insulating effect so it can grow and gives an extended growing season. Yeah, we’re in fact, we’re the, I think, second largest producer of apples behind Washington, largest producer of cherries. And so, we have a lot of agriculture right in our backyard. Now, during the winter it’s a different story. We rely on places like California or importing from other countries to get those fresh vegetables. But yeah, I think a lot of people don’t know. I grew up, my mom would take us strawberry picking. We’d either go to Canada, we’d take advantage of the exchange, do all our strawberry picking, come home. You could throw a few in the blender to make some daiquiris while you’re preserving the rest of the strawberries. So, just being — kind of grown up around it has given awareness and working in the food industry. 

Adam: I want you to — I’m actually going to press you to expand on that, in terms of preparing for meals, too. I feel like that’s another one of those things where — I mean, you see some reclamation of this, in terms of — remember during the pandemic, everyone was making sourdough bread. It was kind of like the joke, every millennial was learning how to be a bread baker. Or, one of the things my sister did is she started preserving stuff, making preserves, and I feel like that’s another one where my mom did it. We would have these big tomato harvests in her backyard, and it was like — well, we ate a lot of tomatoes. There’s a lot of tomato sandwiches. It was the meat on a lot of sandwiches. But you can it or you make sauce. And I feel like that’s something that, if you are getting food seasonally when it’s more affordable, there are ways to preserve the food, which you might not be thinking about, even though you engage with those products on shelves all the time. I was wondering if you could give us a couple examples of things that preserve well that people might have access to. 

Can I easily preserve produce at home?

Jeff: One of the easiest ones, like a couple of weeks ago at Meijer, they had blackberries on sale, 99 cents for a little pint. I bought a dozen packages right in the plastic container, just throw ’em right in the freezer and they’re good to go. Other things, tomatoes are good. They could be canned. My sister, at the end of the season, she’ll stop by the farmer’s market when they have wholesale prices on tomatoes. She throws ’em right in the freezer in a Ziploc bag whole, and then when they thaw you could peel the skins right off and you have fresh tasting tomatoes. Now the texture is going to be impacted from the freezing, but those freeze really well. Vegetables freeze great, no loss of nutrients. And so, I think part of the issue is over the generations we’ve kind of gotten away from those classic processes that were handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. I know in my family, the girls don’t cook, the guys do. So, things are changing, and I think as both parents are working out… working full-time jobs, there’s just not a lot of time at home to produce and prepare the food and preserve it. Back in the old days, it was really putting it up for the winter, enough food to get you through the cold months until you could get the next harvest planted and begin to reap the benefits of that. 

How have modern conveniences changed our relationship to food?

Adam: That’s like that whole pickling and jamming thing. I feel like, again, I’ll go back to my grandmother who, she’d always talk about growing up in Europe, pre-World War II. In the winter you just ate pickled lettuce, because, at that time, no one was importing that lettuce. It wasn’t coming from California or Mexico or Chile or one of these places, Hawaii where they grow, they have these big lettuce farms and they get shipped out in refrigerated trucks, and then get somewhere in three days. In the thirties and forties, that wasn’t happening. So, you pickled lettuce at the end of whenever lettuce season is. Again, I don’t know. But I feel like — imagine going into a grocery store, imagine going to someone’s house and they open up a massive jar of pickled lettuce in February to make you a salad. And that’s what they would do is they would eat a salad of pickled lettuce. I mean, I feel like we’ve lost that. In a weird way, some of the prices we’re seeing at the grocery store and stuff right now are a little bit of a result of that impatience, or that need for convenience. 

Jeff: Yeah, everyone’s busy. No one has time to cook. I got to share with you, there’s a great podcast out there called Depression Era Cooking, and someone’s grandma’s saying, “This is how we did it when times were tough.” And she actually — you know those little dandelion leaves that grow in your yard that we spray roundup and all kinds of chemicals on? Well, they’re actually edible and very good for you. And so, [if] you needed a salad, you went and picked the leaves right out of your yard and made a salad out of it. 

Adam: Just eat the dandelion greens. 

Jeff: Yeah, and then the flowers could be used for making dandelion wine. They wouldn’t let anything go to waste. 

Adam: My grandfather used to, unofficially, he would still cranberries in his shed.  

Jeff: Sure.  

Adam: And it was a wild thing because he had these cranberry trees and he was like, “Well, it makes pretty poor wine, but it makes really great whiskey.” And I’m sure that was not above board, if you want to technical about it. Every year, my grandfather would show up to family camping things and events, and he’d have these big gallon jugs of this whiskey that he would give to his grandkids, who were like my parents and aunts and uncles and stuff. Yeah, I mean, it feels like that type of stuff is just gone. Like, for him, the utility of making sure that those cranberries became something was really important. He may have jarred them or something, too, but, of course, when you’re a kid you just remember grandpa’s ‘apple cider’, he would call. 

Jeff: It was done out of necessity, too. Back then, we were more of an agrarian society, and then when society changed and became more mechanized and manufacturing oriented, we did a good job at producing food. We had canning techniques, freezing. Fermentation was another one I was going to mention. We did a good job of getting food on everyone’s tables, but it wasn’t always necessarily the food loaded with the most nutrients. And so, I think through that manufacturing and that mechanization, we’ve kind of gotten away from whole foods [and being] in touch with where foods come from. 

How can I grocery shop in a budget-friendly way?

Adam: I want to go back and just talk a little bit about some tips in the grocery store. If I’m not going to preserve things, or I’m not going to pickle things, or I’m not really going to do that in-season shopping — which I think everyone should try, and you probably have a farmer’s market that you have access to. Most places will at least have that nearby. But if you’re just going to the grocery store, what are some other ways to kind of save a little bit of money and make that healthy eating more efficient? 

Jeff: Well, normally, you may have heard it said when you shop the grocery store, you want to shop the perimeter. That’s where a lot of the whole foods are found. Within the stores, getting a good deal, some stores will have racks of fruits and vegetables that are, maybe, ripe or maybe they have a bump or a bruise on ’em, and they’ll sell those at discounted prices. You can find those at farmer’s markets as well. Take advantage of sale coupons or different subscriber deals you can sign up for with your local grocery store, and those will offer a lot of discounts. And then it really comes down to just kind of watching your prices, getting to know them, understand the seasonal fluctuation. So, usually, when a product is in season, it’s usually those first, maybe, one to three weeks where the grocery store will mark it down very low, and it’s a great deal. When we had asparagus coming through, I think I consumed about 10 pounds in two weeks. But a great little trick there to make it last another week or two: just put it in a cup of water, the stems, and it’ll stay fresh in your refrigerator. But there’s a lot of things. Buying in bulk can be another great way to save money at the grocery store. But again, you have to know your prices because just because you go to a big box store where you buy things by the pallet load doesn’t always mean they’re good prices. So, you really got to understand those and take advantage of those sales when they come along. 

Adam: So, if you could give us just a short list that you have of foods that have the most versatility to go by, what are the ones that should be obvious or that we should have kind of earmarked for ourselves? 

Jeff: Overall, it’s your lean proteins, your whole grains, fruits and vegetables. And then digging down a little bit deeper, I always keep — from a nutrition and dietetic standpoint, we kind of steer away from the red meats. Most animals that walk on two legs are going to have less saturated fat. It’ll be a little healthier for you. Going back to your chicken example, you can buy thighs and legs cheaper than the breasts. Legumes, it’s a plant source, a plant protein. It’s a lot less expensive than animal-based proteins. And so, if you want to go down towards the vegetarian route, or plant-based eating is the hot term today, you can get your protein from these plant sources. The protein items are what costs the most. Your fish, chicken, beef, pork; that’s where most of the money on your plate is, are in those items. So, one of the easiest ways to cut your grocery bill is to start focusing on these plant-based proteins. Of course, eggs are another great one, especially, except for when prices are high. We saw ’em go through the roof there. Same with the whole chicken. It was amazing what they were charging a couple years back for those. 

Adam: It sounds like avian flu is going up again this year too, so [frustrated groan]. 

Jeff: Remember, switch over to fish or pork or something. But yeah, and then there’s different cuts on the animal now. There’s — years ago that a lot of the cuts were very affordable. You could get a chuck roast or something like that, 59, 79 cents a pound. Today it’s six, seven dollars a pound, and it’s not so much a less desirable cut because any cut can be… tastes great as long as you apply the right cooking techniques to it to tenderize it and make it juicy and delicious. As far as the vegetables go, we have wonderful produce available in most areas of the country, but you can always go to frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are great. They harvest ’em. They individually quick freeze ’em right in the fields on the trucks, and then the nutrients are preserved in those. And so, those can be great economical ways. As are canned vegetables. They may not be as desirable in terms of texture or flavor, but they can be a great source of cutting the cost. 

Adam: Rinse them. Rinse them. 

Jeff: Yeah, rinse them. Well, get a little — some of the extra salt off of them. Yeah. 

Adam: You taught me that a couple of years ago, Jeff. 

Jeff: Did I? 

Adam: You probably don’t remember. 

Jeff: Maybe. I don’t know. 

Adam: No, it was definitely you. 

Jeff: We talked about vegetables. You know, whole grains and legumes. You can get a big sack of rice for cheap, brown rice. People aren’t necessarily accustomed to it, but it’s got a lot more nutrients in it. But the prices are relatively stable and affordable as well. 

How can I begin to eat a plant-based diet?

Adam: I was wondering if you could give us one or two examples of something that’s, kind of, like a really good dinner or lunch that is completely plant-based, something that’s easy for people to do. 

Jeff: Oh, first I’d like to just say, we want to get away from — I think Americans overall are obsessed with protein and they consume way more than we actually need. We think that’s all we need to build muscle or be healthy. And really, a protein portion is about the size of a deck of cards. And so, when we talk about plant-based eating, it’s not eliminating meat, but it’s not really the center-of-the-plate item and it’s a smaller amount. We’re using it to season and flavor our vegetables and grains with some good meat flavor. As far as easy recipes, in the wintertime I do a lot of soups. I’ll make a big pot of soup, a few gallons at a time, put it in Tupperware containers, throw it in the freezer, and I got meals whenever I need ’em. Summertime, I kind of lean towards more salads, take advantage of all the fresh produce in the markets, easy meals to throw together. I’ll clean up my lettuce maybe three, six heads at once, throw in Ziploc bags so it’s ready to go. All I got to do is throw some garnishes on there and they’re easy to make. And if you’re really into convenience, lately I’ve been eating a lot of frozen bean burritos. [They’ve] got some great organic products out there that are affordable, you throw ’em in the microwave two minutes. It’s very healthy and convenient. Too. But you don’t want to go too far down the road of those Lean Cuisine or prepared meals because you end up getting a little high in the sodium aspects, which isn’t so good. 

Adam: Some of us have to look out for that. That’s me, that’s me. I’m talking about me. 

Jeff: We all do. 

What are common misconceptions about diet and nutrition?

Adam: What are the common misnomers that you hear about diet and what makes a diet healthy, or healthy and affordable, I guess? Because it seems to me sometimes that — I think people discount how much a diet might be affecting their health. I think there’s this pervasive idea like, “I can work out enough to overcome any bad diet,” or something like that. Or just, adversely, it’s not even that you’re working out to overcome it, you just don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Maybe as long as my caloric intake is appropriate, it doesn’t really matter what I’m eating. I feel like sometimes you hear things that kind of align with that, and that, I am guessing, would not be something you would subscribe to. 

Jeff: Well, it’s true. If your aim is to lose weight, you don’t even have to work out. If you manage your diet, the weight will come off. But we want good nutrition. Healthy food fights disease; poor, processed, less-than-healthy food feeds disease. And so, it’s important to get all the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that our body needs to function. As far as the consumers go, as a whole, I think there’s a lot of… we get a lot of mixed messages in media. One minute it’s low carb, then it’s low sugar, low salt, low this, low that. When they went on the low-fat craze, they started putting a bunch of sugar in the food to make it taste good because the fat was taken out. And so, not that we have to be extreme in any manner. It’s okay to have a little sugar. 10% of our calories are discretionary. It’s important to work with qualified, like a registered dietician, somebody who understands the science behind the recommendations. And so, we’re looking [for] more of a balance in our diets and not getting too extreme. Carbohydrates aren’t bad, but they’ve been vilified in the media. But there’s a difference between highly processed carbohydrates and whole grain carbohydrates, the ones that are released very slowly into our bloodstream and doesn’t cause our blood sugar to spike and then end up with that crashing, lack-of-energy feel or increased cravings. We were talking earlier about pizzas, all those refined carbohydrates in there, it makes you more and more hungry where you can take down the whole pizza. I know for me, if I can’t do it in one sitting, I’ll wait a little while and keep at it until it’s gone. And so, those highly processed carbs are what’s bad. Same with fat. Fat isn’t bad. Now, saturated fats are. They can clog up your arteries, lead to heart disease. But there’s a lot of healthy fats available. Avocados have been really popular these days. They’re delicious. Just yesterday I made the avocado toast with a fried egg sandwich, and it’s a very healthy meal. But again, eating a lot of fat — but again, the unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which we usually get from vegetable sources. So really, it’s tough to sift through all those mixed messaging out there to really understand what people should and shouldn’t be doing. I think people are victim to a lot of fad diets, or they think it’s the latest craze. For a while there I fell victim to the protein thing. I was consuming a lot of protein. And after teaching the nutrition course, I learned that you can actually build up a lot of uric acid in your body as your liver and kidneys process that protein, and it can actually make a toxic environment in your body. So, I didn’t know any better. 

How do I know what health advice to trust?

Adam: Even Jeff Fisher didn’t know any better. Well, I think that’s one of the things, too —and I am curious of your opinion on this — it seems like sometimes it’s hard to know where to get nutrition advice. It’s really easy to take any eating advice from anyone with a six pack who’s talking to you with their shirt off, right? Where you kind of go, “Man, this person must be doing something right, so I’m going to listen to their dietary advice.” And I feel like a lot of diet fads are born out of that. And the reality of it is, is that — my hunch over the years, thinking about things that I eat — and I’m not a shirtless six pack guy — is that it is that it’s more common sense. Most of us probably know better if we really think about it. Like you were saying earlier, that shop on the outside of the grocery store. And if you do most of your shopping that way, it’s going to be hard to eat a lot of stuff that’s bad for you, I would surmise. 

Jeff: And it’s not to say that the inside of the grocery store is bad, but a lot of the whole foods, unprocessed foods are found on the perimeter. And, yeah, if somebody’s fit, that doesn’t mean they’re healthy. They might look fit, they might look good on the beach, but they might have a lot of internal health problems going on due to their diet. And so, in fact, when you kind of evaluate, critically evaluate, those messages — we do a little exercise in the nutrition course is: who are these people? What is the organization? What are they trying to sell you? And that’s usually a big red flag. If they’re trying to sell you something, they’ll say anything to get you to buy their product. And so, you want to steer away from those sources of information. My program here at CMU, we train students to become registered dieticians where they go through very rigorous study and examination to really understand the impact between nutrition and health. And I would say work with one of them if you want good, solid advice. 

Adam: I mean, those folks are out there and they’re probably going to have a slightly different take than somebody who’s selling a program on Instagram. And again, not to say that all that advice is bad. Certainly, wanting to have a healthier lifestyle is probably good, but it’s probably not a magic cure. I had a doctor tell me once that if the box of something you’re buying is telling you how healthy it is, you could probably get something not in a box, and then it’ll actually do it better for you. If it’s got to tell you there’s a bunch of stuff in there… His take was like, “And I’m not saying I know what every one of those ingredients is, but if the box is like, ‘Better for You’, go buy something that’s not in a box.” 

Jeff: Yeah, the box should be the red flag in and of itself. 

Adam: Yeah, I think that was a piece of advice I had gotten, too, and I was asking about my own diet and it was like, “Try to not eat things out of boxes and cans as much, as you can.” Obviously, at some point you’re going to crack open some Barilla, you’re going to want some pasta, that’s okay. But that shouldn’t be your primary source of food. 

How can I improve my portion control and create a well-balanced plate?

Jeff: Yeah. Well, and pasta can be very healthy. It’s got a lot of vitamins, nutrients, protein, even, in pasta. But at that point, it comes down to portion control. You don’t have a heaping plate of pasta. You have a small side of pasta, some lean proteins, some vegetables on the dish. Make it balanced. 

Adam: Yeah. Start getting those plates that you’re eating to look more well-rounded or have that bowl that you’re eating have all of those different ingredients in it, right? 

Jeff: And there’s tricks. They say if you use heavier flatware, when you pick it up, it’s going to make it feel like, “Oh, man, I got a big pile of food here, this is good.” Or use a smaller plate, and so it looks like your plate is more full. So, if you use an extra-large plate, you’re going to want to keep more food on there to make it look right, but not necessarily the proper portion size. 

Adam: You don’t want that disappointing experience when you go somewhere really expensive and they give you the huge plate and it’s beautiful, but it’s like just [makes small circle with hands]. You ever have…? I’m sure you have. 

Jeff: I’ve heard the stories, 300 bucks for a nice meal and then you stop at McDonald’s on the way home because you’re hungry. 

What value can food have beyond simple ingredients?

Adam: I’ve seen Jeff plate food, by the way, and he probably can do this really well, which is fill the plate in the middle and make it look really beautiful. But, yeah, you’re right. I think — I know I’ve had that reaction and then eaten the meal and been like, “Actually, this was the perfect amount of food that I’ve had.” And that’s kind of that American psychology that we’re getting away from, too, right? Which is like the value of the food — obviously, when it comes to a lot of the stuff we’re talking about, you do want to have enough food to feed yourself for a week — but if you’re going to go out and you’re going to splurge and you’re going to break away from that, the value of the food isn’t just the amount of the food. It’s: is it good? Is it good for you? Did it taste good? Did it have a good experience? Because so much of our eating is experiential, right? I mean… 

Jeff: Yeah, very much. Think when you go to Starbucks, right? They got the music, the nice furniture, the good ambiance. That’s all part of the price you’re paying for. 

Adam: Yeah. Do you recommend people learn to eat through experience at home if they’re having a hard time eating better things? Can you trick yourself even more than just those plates? 

Jeff: It’s easier to control when you’re at home, to eat better and healthier and not rely — you don’t know what’s going on in the kitchen [at a restaurant]. I’ve had chefs tell us, “Put a little extra salt in the food. It’s good for the liquor and wine sales.” 

Adam: People get thirsty. 

Jeff: So, you never know their motives. 


Adam: Jeff’s list of restaurants that do that will be out after. 

Jeff: Fine dining. We don’t shy away from butter and cream and all those saturated foods. 

Adam: Everything’s a rue. 

Jeff: Everything’s a rue, yeah. Flower and butter. 

Adam: A ruse. 

Jeff: A ruse. 

Adam: And that, Jeff, I’ll say thanks for coming in and talking to me about eating healthy. 

Jeff: All right. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here, Adam. Thanks for having me. 

Adam: Awesome. Thank you for stopping by The Search Bar. Make sure that you like and subscribe so that you don’t have to search for the next episode. 

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