Feature story: Greening up the dinner table

'Tasty and vegan' does not have to be an oxymoron

Eat your vegetables.

Like most people, Menlo Park resident Julie Shanson knows that eating healthy is no great mystery.

She just wishes she knew growing up what she knows now about nutrition and eating right. And she's passionate about sharing her knowledge, mainly through her website, Find joy in food, her blog and her cooking classes.

While in elementary school, Shanson was captivated by cooking. When her mom was getting a master's degree, she would go to a neighbor and help her cook, using homegrown vegetables and fruits. She even chose to go to Cornell University because it was near the Moosewood Cooperative, the source of an early (and very popular) vegetarian cookbook.

But her junior year in Paris sealed the deal for her; that's when she learned the concepts of buying what's fresh, eating it the same day, having two-hour dinners and enjoying wine with that dinner.

Post-college, she found that even when working full time, she could still experiment in the kitchen for herself and friends.

But four years ago, when her mother was diagnosed with cancer (and later died), she turned her interest to whole-food, plant-based cooking. Today she cooks mostly vegan for her husband and children.

"It was something to do to control the grief. I have two girls. I want to be around for them," Shanson said.

About a year ago she participated in a Stanford program that focused on healthy eating, absorbing some simple principles. Key to the principles is sorting foods by caloric density into red (e.g., ice cream), yellow (e.g., whole-wheat bread) or green (e.g., broccoli). In the program she learned to track by color, with the goal of increasing the number of foods in the green column.

"If I'd learned (the principles) the way I learned to balance my checkbook, it would have changed my life," she said.

"One of the great things about cooking for yourself is you know what's in it. You know when you're splurging," she said, adding that the hardest place for her is the grocery store.

"If I buy it, I'll want to cook with it and eat it. I look at the cart and ask how many reds are in it" before checking out, she said.

But Shanson acknowledged that "eating delicious food is important" and is delighted that one of her friends commented that "she makes healthy food taste good."

With so many steps involved in food (acquiring, preparing, cooking, consuming, dealing with leftovers, cleaning up), she said she plans carefully while in a store, loading up on staples that will keep (rice, beans, pasta) while being conscious of how to quickly use those that won't.

She's always thinking about ways to build up those greens. One suggestion she offered a friend whose child loved instant ramen soup was to throw in some edamame, shredded carrots and spinach.

But Shanson said she's no purist, calling herself an 87 to 97 percent vegan.

"The minute you hear you can't have anything, you want it," she said, adding that one of her favorite sayings is "not right now," meaning she could choose to have cream in her coffee at another time.

When she first came to California in the early '90s, she worked for Stanford University in fundraising, then later in high-tech. Today's she's in the early stages of crafting a livelihood that will incorporate her love of cooking.

On her website she outlines the services she's offering, from marketing with a client to brainstorming meal planning and preparation (including packing healthy lunches and snacks for kids) and customized cooking classes.

She's already teaching a soup-making class at The Girls Middle School in Palo Alto and plans to teach a second class through Palo Alto Adult School in April.

One needn't be a vegan to appreciate Shanson's classes. She hopes to have students in her soup-and-salad class who "want to switch up their routine, add vegetables to their diet and who are looking for inspiration."

What: Potluck Winners

When: Tuesday, April 14, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Where: Palo Alto High School, Room 103, 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto

Cost: $50

Info: Palo Alto Adult School or 650-329-3752

Asian Red Cabbage Salad with Lemon Ginger Dressing


1 T. toasted sesame oil (smell it to ensure it's fresh, it can go bad over time)

4 T. lemon juice (2-3 lemons), plus the zest of one of the lemons

1/2" ginger root, grated (about 1 t.)

1/8 t. salt

1/2 red cabbage - about 1/2 lb.

2 carrots grated or sliced in slivers

1 C. frozen peas

2-3 green onions, sliced in their entirety in 1/4" slivers

10-15 sprigs of cilantro, leaves and small stems only, chopped

1 T. toasted sesame seeds (optional)


Mix the sesame oil, vegetable oil, lemon juice, grated ginger and lemon zest in a small bowl to make a dressing, then set aside. Boil 6 cups of water in a 3-quart saucepan, then add 1 T. salt. Add the cabbage and simmer for 1 minute. Add the peas and simmer for 1 minute more. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Drain the vegetables into a colander, then place the colander in the bowl with the ice water. Shake out the vegetables, then toss in a dry bowl with the grated carrot, green onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, if using, and dressing. Or, skip the dressing and sprinkle with salt, lemon juice and the toasted sesame seeds if you feel like it.

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


4 people like this
Posted by Susannah
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 6, 2015 at 10:23 am

What a wonderful article about a unique and yummy learning opportunity.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Contemporary Indian restaurant, Ettan, headed to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 6,188 views

Good News: The New Menlo Park Rail Subcommittee Hits A Home Run
By Dana Hendrickson | 12 comments | 1,740 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,442 views

Two degrees can do all that?
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,062 views

Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable
By Laura Stec | 7 comments | 636 views


Register today!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More