Skinny De Mayo

IMG_8871By Tara Cushing (@TheBravoBlonde)

Can you believe that Cinco De Mayo is just a week away? Time is flying my friends, and my personal favorite time of the year (late spring and summer) is right around the corner!

Recently I took on two fitness and dietary challenges. The first was a 6 week ab challenge which started with 40 full daily sit-ups and increased by increments of 15 weekly until our final week of 115! The other was a clean eating challenge. I now eat as clean as possible during the work week…no sugar, and no fried or processed foods.

Naturally I’ve been inventing ways to eat some of my favorites in a healthier, cleaner form. One of these is the taco. I LOVE Mexican food. The cheese, the salsa, the sour cream, the salty crunchy chips! Not exactly lean eating. So I invented my own healthier taco…and for the (weekend) nights I want a little bit of extra Ole’ in my step, there’s Bethenny Frankel‘s Skinnygirl brand Spicy Lime Margarita. I know many of you have commented to me how much you like the original SKGM, so if you, like yours truly, enjoys a spicy kick, give it a try alongside this Skinnier taco recipe that I’ve been enjoying guilt free since my little lifestyle change.

Skinnier Taco

* one whole wheat tortilla

* 1/2 cup fresh organic baby spinach

* 1/2 cup of lean protein source (fish,chicken,beans…salmon is pic

*1/4 cup shredded organic cheddar cheese

*1/2 diced small avocado

*1 tablespoon organic salsa (make sure no sugar in it)

Take tortilla and invert it so it hangs over two bars in your oven rack and bake until crisp in a 350 degree oven (about 6 minutes).

Stand up tortilla like a taco shell. Layer ingredients in the following order:

Spinach, avocado, protein, cheese, salsa.

*Need that hint of sour cream?Use a tablespoon of plain nonfat Greek yogurt.

Did you try this recipe? Let us know how it worked for you below!

My Week of Clean Eating


Caprese salad with chickpeas makes an awesome lunch! Recipe below!

By Tara Cushing (@TheBravoBlonde)

Ah the signs of spring…sunlit evenings, chirping birds in the morning, people dieting like crazy for the impending swimsuit season. Add social media to the mix and the diet game has achieved a whole new level. There are now Facebook groups devoted to challenges of all sorts where people can share photos of food, exercises, and bare midriffs to show their progress.

I’ve always been very self motivated when it comes to fitness, I’m also extremely competitive, so when a friend posted about an ab challenge I was all “Sign me up!” One week in and I started seeing a difference, at which point I got invited to do a clean eating challenge. Sure, my abs will really look awesome…”Sign me up!” About an hour later I regretted that choice. The group, lead by my friend and Beachbody Coach, Maria, came with guidelines, rules, and forms to fill out. I hate guidelines, rules, and forms. However Maria convinced me it would be fun, besides, it was only for 5 days. How hard could it be?

Day 1: 

My first obstacle, I realized, would be my morning caffeine ritual. Healthy Tara starts her day with green tea, but on the way to work, unhealthy Tara stops at Dunkin Donuts for a Vanilla Chai. I know it has 330 calories, but I’m a runner, so I ignore that. My Vanilla Chai is my security blanket. I shuffle into work clutching it each morning. It is my lifeline. “Are you aware that it has 45 grams of sugar?” Maria texts me. ‘Killjoy’ I think. “Go ahead and have it,” she tells me “just be aware.” Ha, permission I think…or maybe it was reverse psychology, because by the time I pulled into DD all I could imagine was a syrupy cup of sugar. I reluctantly ordered a small skim unsweetened cappuccino. I saved myself 250 calories and 36 grams of sugar, and I actually enjoyed it. This may actually be an easy challenge. Later that day a colleague offered me a pretzel which I declined (no processed foods on this challenge) she shook her head and as she walked away I heard her  say “Who doesn’t eat pretzels?” Lesson learned day 1, gain healthy habits, become the office weirdo.

Day 2:

Maria (who by the way tells me this is not a diet but my new Vanilla Chai-less lifestyle) convinces me that my daily breakfast of 1/2 a bagel with vegan butter is devoid of protein. I’ve been eating this same exact breakfast every weekday for at least 8 years. I want to tell her that Dr. Oz says that we should eat the same breakfast everyday, but I bite my tongue. Maria suggests I add an egg white. I get up 5 minutes earlier to fry an eggwhite. I then proceed to stress my entire commute that I might have left the burner on and that my beloved dog will perish in a horrible fire. For lunch I’ve made some random chickpea, pasta, basil salad. It’s surprisingly delicious, but I’m also hungry enough to eat my desk. Maria was worried that I wasn’t consuming enough food for my active lifestyle, I’m beginning to realize that Maria knows everything and perhaps I should have her pick my lotto numbers too. I come home to find that my dog and house are safe. At dinner I enjoy some baked french fries without any (sugary) ketchup. I feel like I just did something sacrilegious. I plan tomorrow’s meals wondering if there’s a way to convince Kraft to make egg white singles.

Day 3:

I’m starting to feel the positive effects of this diet, I mean life change, though I honestly thought I was a pretty clean eater before; except for the Vanilla Chais, tortilla chips, pizza, and nightly sinful dessert. While on the topic of dessert, I’m a diehard liberal, but at this point I may sell my vote to the Republicans for a cookie. Maria says I should make healthy cookies, like I have time to make cookies. Overall I’m tired from staying up late watching Tuesday night Bravo, and it’s raining which translates to “I’m the hungriest I’ve been all week.” I succumb to eating part of my lunch at 11am and having some multigrain flaxseed crackers and cheese after work. The crackers are the crunchiest things I’ve eaten all week and it takes all of my strength not to eat the whole package. But the positives, yes those positives, my pants are looser, I have no bloat, and I’m wearing a top that I usually think reveals bumps and lumps in all the wrong places, it only reveals the right ones. Ah, progress. Oh I’ve also learned to check the burner on the stove 6 times before I leave in the morning.

Day 4:

I’m hungry again around 11 am. I decide that the drastic reduction in calories from the way I ingest my caffeine is the reason. However, I’ve grown quite fond of unsweetened nonfat cappuccinos so decide I will from now on eat the fruit portion of my lunch at 11 every morning instead of reverting back to Vanilla Chais. Speaking of fruit it’s been a stressful day and I’m missing the liquid variety, but I’ve sworn off alcohol for this challenge. Tomorrow night can’t come quick enough.

Day 5:

I’ve made it five days without any processed foods, sweetened lattes, decadent desserts, or alcohol. I’ve surprised myself with how many meals I can concoct from a can of chickpeas, a container of grape tomatoes, and a package of basil.I feel less bloated and have more energy, but I ran 7 miles this evening and it’s pizza Friday. I compromise with a salad slice and half a banana for dinner, and I fall asleep before I even have a chance to pour the glass of wine I’d worked so hard for. Tomorrow I have a baby shower to attend. Free from the bonds of clean eating I might just throw myself into the cake. I’ve decided that calories consumed on Saturdays (or any opportunity to eat cake for that matter) just don’t count.

What a difference 5 days of clean eating makes! Bikini season here I come!

What a difference 5 days of clean eating makes! Bikini season here I come!

In Conclusion:

Despite all of my whining, clean eating really wasn’t that hard, or that different from how I normally eat. The changes I’ve made were easy enough that I believe I will continue to eat clean during the work week and indulge just a little bit on weekends. The results I saw in just 5 days are enough to keep me going! Many of you have asked for my meal plan so here is a sample of what I ate in a day along with recipes where necessary:


*1/2 whole wheat bagel w/ Earth Balance soy free spread, egg white, nonfat/unsweetened small Dunkin Donuts cappuccino

Snack 1:

* 1 mandarin


*caprese/chickpea salad: 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes, 1/3 cup fresh mozzarella in bite size pieces, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar,  1 tbs olive oil : layer all ingredients in lidded container & shake

Snack 2:

*2 tbs peanut butter w 1/2 a fuji apple


*salmon burger (no bun) spread with goat cheese

*handful Alexia brand yukon gold baked fries (no ketchup)

*broccoli w/ garlic & almonds: package frozen organic broccoli, 1/2 c slivered almonds, 2 diced garlic cloves: in covered pan on low heat, heat all together until broccoli is thawed and warm


* mock caramel apple pie: 1/2 fuji apple, 1 tbsp peanut butter : chop up apple half into teacup, place peanut butter on top, microwave until peanut butter is melted and apples are soft (about 30-45 seconds)

*For more clean eating ideas, recipes, and to find out about Maria’s coaching please follow her @MariaPaulercio on Twitter.

Shrimp and Spinach Orzo With a Side of RHONJ

imageIf you follow me on Instagram you get your fill of foodie pictures. Every recipe I try I photograph and post to my social media. This acts as a great gage for what you, the readers, want to eat. Last week I posted a photo of my favorite orzo dish and the response was overwhelming. I started making this dish after I dined at one of my favorite Greek restaurants with a good friend, who also happens to work closely with Jacqueline Laurita.

This dish will satisfy your craving for all the food groups…well almost, you just will have to add some baklava for dessert. Opa!

Speaking of dessert, I was driving through Franklin Lakes over the weekend and passed a massive house that is under construction. The place was huge with several garages on the side and a turret in front. Could it be? When I met up with a local gal pal I mentioned the home and asked if it was the future residence of The Wakiles. My friend mentioned the street name and told me she’s pretty sure it’s the house. Ladies and gents, I really don’t believe Franklin Lakes is that large. How many turreted houses in the phase of construction that Kathy‘s is at could there be? Kathy and Rich, if it is your house, it is AMAZING! I also think it’s big enough that I could move in and you guys will never notice I’m there. Got a spare room for a mommy who needs a vacay?

One mommy got a little vacay, if only for an afternoon. Another set of Jersey eyes I know spotted Caroline Manzo out shopping with her great niece Olivia, daughter of Dazzle Candy owner Candice Laurita, over the weekend. I’m sure this was the calm before the storm as Caro and company’s new show Manzo’d With Childen starts this coming Sunday on Bravo right after RHONJ!

Tell us, what do you think of Kathy and Rich’s new house? Will you watch the Manzo’s new show? Will you make this recipe?

Shrimp and Spinach Orzo

*1 package of orzo (I like tri-colored)

*1 package of fresh baby spinach leaves

* 2 cloves garlic

*1 package grape tomatoes

* sea salt

*several fresh basil leaves

*1-2 cups  cooked shrimp, tail on or off

* 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (or goat)

Coat bottom of sauce pan with olive oil and place over medium low heat. Add chopped garlic cloves and whole grape tomatoes. Cover and let sit until tomatoes start to open (about 10-15 minutes). While tomatoes are cooking prepare orzo according to package directions. When tomatoes are soft and opening add spinach, basil, shrimp, and pinch of sea salt. Lower heat and cover until spinach is steamed and shrimp is warm (about 3 minutes). Add sauce mixture to drained orzo and sprinkle with feta. The leftovers are great heated or cold!