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Finding Inspiration Together with 40 Apron's Cheryl Malik

Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I was surrounded by a tribe of good Southern cooks. Sundays after church you could almost always find my entire extended family gathered around my great-grandmother's dining table that was laden with platters of homemade fried chicken, butterbeans from her garden, and her mouthwatering fried apple pies. In the summers, my cousins and I would inhale my grandmother's made-from-scratch pancakes every morning, and I still have a hard time saying "no" to my mother's insanely rich poundcake (there's a reason they call it that y'all). What I learned from watching these women bustle happily around their kitchens is this:

  1. Cooking is a love language.

  2. I do not speak cooking.

I hate to cook. It stresses me out, which I think may have something to do with the fact that there is often math involved and the only thing I am worse at than cooking is math. Fortunately, my husband is a great cook so my children and I unanimously voted him head chef at casa Osterhage. But now with the children out of the house and more time on my hands, I decided to take another crack at it, mostly because I wanted to take control of my nutrition once and for all. I began researching blogs and websites for healthy, whole 30-type recipes and stumbled across 40 Aprons. More specifically, I stumbled across the insanely popular Eggroll in A Bowl (if you know, you know). I gave it a try and found that not only was it delicious, but it was also Bonny-proof. Intrigued, I started digging into more of the 40 Aprons recipes and sure enough, the results were fantastic. Clean recipes (most are Whole 30), easy to follow, and as an added bonus--the creator is fellow Memphis girl, Cheryl Malik. Malik has been featured in Women's Health, Shape, Self, and Cosmopolitan (to name a few), so you can imagine my delight that she graciously agreed to give us a peek inside her busy, but well-balanced life. Check out our Q &A below and get inspired!

Where did the name 40 Aprons come from?

Loving food and cooking as much as I do, I used to get aprons from everyone! For holidays, on vacations, it seemed to be the go-to gift for me. So I ended up with dozens of aprons, close to 40! After years of going back and forth with more niche-specific names, I fell in love with this more versatile name. It was also a nod to how many "hats" I wear in my life, just, you know, the kitchen version!

With so many "hats," how do you juggle it all and still find time to create your mouthwatering recipes?

For me, priorities are just that - priorities. I work out daily; we eat well; I read, study chess and Spanish every day; I run several businesses, and I still get to spend plenty of time with my kiddos. I focus intently on my work when I'm working, and I just prioritize the rest. I might watch a little less TV or spend less time on social media, but the trade-off is SO worth it.

You became a vegetarian at the age of 10 and kept it up for many years. How has that influenced your culinary career?

I knew at a very early age that the standard American diet just wasn't right, and at that time, the only alternative diet with really any visibility was vegetarianism. I go back and forth with eating meat all the time, and, when I'm not pregnant, we try to minimize our consumption for environmental reasons. But discovering this at an early age really opened up a world of possibility with food beyond the packaged and processed we're somewhat trained to see. This became a major passion for me early on and is still going strong!

You are a big Whole30 advocate. Why? What I loved about Whole30 is that it really trained me, in a sort of sink-or-swim moment, to understand what was added to my foods. As an on-and-off vegetarian and vegan for many years, I knew how to avoid certain things, but I was not aware of all the other junk that was added to our foods! From soy byproducts to sugar (In. absolutely. everything.) to other convenient ingredients for manufacturers, Whole30 forced me to really confront this issue. While I personally do not feel the need to complete Whole30s now, doing that first one was incredibly enlightening.

Have you always enjoyed cooking? I have! Ever since I really discovered cooking in college, I've been absolutely obsessed with it. Food has always been the thing I love the most, and, in my college town, being able to make the international foods I missed from my larger hometown felt like a superpower. I still adore cooking to this day, even though it's my job!

What is your most popular recipe and what is your personal favorite?

I would say my all-time most popular recipe is Egg Roll in a Bowl. It's been viewed on my site over 3 million times, and I see readers making it on Instagram all day every day! I would say my personal favorite recipe might just be my Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs, which I've been making for years and years. It's just such a good recipe, and it's requested by many family members for birthdays and holidays!

What do you see as the biggest obstacles for people when it comes to eating clean and healthy? I think there are several things at play here: time, knowledge, and money. You can absolutely eat healthy on a budget, but it requires more know-how and more strategy. Without having those two things, it can seem totally daunting or simply not doable. Time is a similar factor: there are so many quick, healthy meals you can make, but you have to know what to do. Our aim with my sites is to help people with these roadblocks to healthy eating. And, of course, convincing your family to eat "real food" can be a challenge, too! That's why all of our recipes focus on flavor and are toddler-approved!

If you could eat only one of your recipes for the rest of your life, what would it be? Not going to lie - my Restaurant-Style Salsa, hands down! I could eat chips and salsa for every meal of the day. That's why restrictive eating never worked for me. What's life without some really good chips and salsa?!

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