I’ve known Kelsey for a little while and am so inspired by her intelligence! She is on her way to receiving her doctorate in positive psychology, and as a psych major myself, I am always fascinated by what I learn each time I talk about it with Kelsey.
She also has her own Instagram page, @keenoncookbooks, that sparked my interest. She uses her platform to try out a bunch of different recipes from her favorite cookbooks.
I came to her asking about vegan recipes, and she ended up teaching me all about flow, a positive psychology concept, which she experiences through her cooking. It was so fascinating that I decided I had to share it with all of you!
Sam: Tell me about yourself!
Kelsey: Hi! I’m Kelsey! I grew up and, also, fell in love with my high school sweetheart (now husband!) in the Central Valley of California, below the Sierra’s, surrounded by orange and olive groves. I am a fox by nature. See here for a good explanation of Isaiah Berlin’s metaphor of the hedgehog and the fox. Foxes know a little about a lot of things. They tend to split their time and energy among different ideas and projects. Foxes are splitters, while hedgehogs are lumpers. Hedgehogs have deep knowledge about one big idea. They connect and lump their projects and ideas together into one big picture. I am a HUGE fox. I am currently working on finishing my doctorate in Positive Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, but I also dabble in cooking, music, travel, sustainability, and learning about my family history, among other interests. Am I great at any of the things I dabble in? No. But I love learning new things and dipping my toes into different subjects.
Sam: Who/what inspired Keen on Cookbooks?
Kelsey: My brother and I grew up on my mom’s delicious pescatarian food – think bean burgers, salmon patties, and stuffed bell peppers. Yum! My dad’s classics included cinnamon toast, quesadillas, milkshakes, and frozen perogies that he would add some flare to. I also enjoyed my paternal grandmothers comfort food. She lived right next to us, and when she would babysit us, we would start our days with oatmeal with plenty of added milk, sugar, and butter, along with a side of crispy bacon, toast smothered with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Ovaltine to drink. We had that breakfast so often; I can still smell it as I describe it. She would also make us sweet tea (which my mom called hummingbird food) in the summer afternoons when we were roller skating or riding our Razor scooters around her house. My maternal grandmother had holiday classics. She made the best egg salad sandwiches and potato salad at Easter and cheesy scalloped potatoes that were always devoured at Thanksgiving, which included layers of potatoes, salt, pepper, tabs of butter, shredded cheese and whole milk. I grew up with an appreciation for different styles of cooking.
Around the age of 14, I started really getting interested in cooking myself. When I went antiquing with my mom, I would always stop by the book section and look at the vintage cookbooks. Around that time, I was gifted the set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle from either my parents or Santa Claus? I can’t remember. Haha! I loved reading the descriptions and instructions in the book and testing out some of the recipes for family dinners.
My interest in cooking was renewed when I went vegan in 2015. I had to figure out a whole new way to cook! I dove into vegan cookbooks, vegan blogs, and vegan cooking channels on YouTube. I absolutely love trying a new recipe. I personally enjoy cookbooks more than online recipes. There is something about opening up a full collection of someone’s tried and true recipes, especially if the photos and stories are inspiring. My Instagram page, Keen on Cookbooks, is where I share my thoughts on cookbook recipes I have tried. Nothing more. It is a photo journal of my vegetarian recipe test kitchen.
Sam: Congratulations on being so close to obtaining your doctorate in positive psychology! You mentioned that you studied the concept of “flow”, which is something that you experience while cooking. Can you elaborate more on this?
Kelsey: I’d love to! Flow is a concept first defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Me-high Chick-sent-me-high). Mike, as we call him, is the co-founder of the subfield of positive psychology along with Martin Seligman. He was one of my graduate advisors before he retired last year in his mid-eighties. His own personal story is fascinating (see his TED Talk, here).
Flow is experienced when you have a relatively high amount of a certain skill and the difficulty of a task is in equilibrium with your skill. People tend to experience flow when the difficulty of the task challenges your skills juuuuust enough. Your attention is focused solely on the task at hand. Some describe it as being in the zone. You might lose awareness of time. Time might feel like it is in slow motion yet whizzing by at the same time. Flow can be experienced in many different activities, from rock climbing to investigating bacteria under a microscope. For those interested in the flow experience and how to experience flow more often, check out Mike’s national best seller, Flow, here.
I often experience flow when doing research, playing instruments in ensembles, and cooking and testing recipes. No matter the activity, the flow experience is almost like a meditative experience for me. You temporarily forget about your stress and anxieties of the day to get absorbed in the moment; in the enjoyable activity at hand.
Sam: You and your husband, Jake, are such a great team when it comes to sustainability, especially when it comes to cooking! Can you please tell me more about this?
Kelsey: I’m no longer a strict vegan, but one of the reasons I first went vegan was for sustainability reasons. The documentary Cowspiracy, combined with my mostly pescatarian upbringing, played a big role in my decision. Part of the reason I am no longer a strict vegan is that Jake, my husband, has invested himself in raising backyard chickens for eggs. I personally believe that backyard eggs are one of the most humane and sustainable animal products. Chickens eat what would become food waste from your kitchen or weeds from your garden, live what I have observed to be an enjoyable life in a backyard coop, and provide a package free, very versatile, high protein food. We also grow a lot of our own produce in vegetable gardens and practice composting our food scraps that might not be as tasty for the chickens. The compost provides rich fertile soil for your vegetables.
Jake is responsible for the success of most of the things I listed above. He’s the best! He loves gardening and backyard farming. He has an Instagram and blog where he documents his gardening, chicken tending, and cheese making experiences at @hillybillysustainability and hillbillysustainability.com.
If you have space in your backyard, I highly encourage looking into starting your own vegetable garden, planting a fruit tree, compositing, and maybe adding a small chicken coop. If you are an apartment dweller or renter, you might be able to find a community garden and compost. At the very least, try to keep in mind (Google is your friend) what fruits and vegetables are in season in your area when you shop, and, if you can, buy from your local farmers at farmer’s markets.
Sam: How do you strive to positively inspire your audience?
Kelsey: To be completely honest, I first thought this was a pretty lofty question for what, right now, is an Instagram account with a pretty meager following where I am just sharing my experience of cooking new dishes. However, I suppose I do hope to inspire others to share what they love doing and what they find interesting, even if they’re not an expert. As one of my childhood TV heroes, Ms. Frizzle, would say, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”. Once you learn that taking those chances are part of the process, your skill will eventually improve, and you might even start to find yourself in flow!
I also have a website, The Peachy Keen Cook, where I post some original recipes sporadically. (Note: I don’t pay for my own URL from WordPress because I’m not a professional blogger. I’m just informally sharing something that I love from time to time. I encourage you to do the same! It’s free! No need to be a professional to share what you love doing!) Maybe it’s cliché for vegans to love salads, but I think that salads are the perfect no-cook summer lunch. I recently posted the trick to making a perfect salad with some ideas to spark your imagination. I’ve also posted instructions on how to sprout your own lentils, which make for an awesome, crunchy addition to your salad. You are going to have to trust me on this one!
I also hope to help people see that vegetarian and vegan meals can be super tasty and comforting! While I personally think it’s tasty, it’s not ALL sprouted lentil vegan salads! You can also make delicious creamy pastas, mashed potatoes, and burgers if that’s more your style. There are LOADS of amazing vegan and vegetarian cookbooks out there! I’ll even do the work of testing them for you so you know which ones might fit your tastes best! Hope you join me for some recipe testing at @keenoncookbooks!
Kelsey’s Favorite Cookbooks & Recipes:
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle
Kelsey’s note: “Not vegetarian, but sparked my interest in cooking and baking.”
The Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking by Dana Shultz
Kelsey’s note: “The first vegan cookbook I owned. Every single recipe is a winner in my book, and it helped me better understand the foundations of cooking and baking vegan.”
The Forest Feast Cookbooks by Erin Gleeson
Kelsey’s note: “Great, SIMPLE vegetarian recipes with beautiful photography.”
Mississippi Vegan: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Boy’s Heart by Timothy Pakron
Kelsey’s note: “I love when cookbooks include stories. Especially when the stories feel authentic and important to the cook and not just for the purpose of filling up a page. Mississippi vegan is chock full.”
“Cookbooks that I am looking forward to diving into soon”:
Vegetable Kingdom by Bryant Terry
New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford
Kate Brackley says
I love this, Kelsey! Sounds like, although you?re working hard on your doctorate, you?re also having fun while living a healthy, sustainable life! Love you! Stay safe! Hi to Jack!
Sam Elimelech says
Isn’t she great!?
Maria Branch says
I absolutely love this article about Kelsey.
Sam Elimelech says
Thanks so much! She truly is such an inspiration.