by: SUBMITTED - Max and Soren Rodli each choose a side to decorate in a recent gingerbread-house workshop held at CookingThyme in Happy Valley.Joan Browning is passionate about families eating together and spending time together around the table, and those elements come together this time of the year when she hosts her gingerbread house parties.

“This is a fun experience, centered around gingerbread, in an atmosphere that is not part of the rush, rush of the holidays,” she said.

And not to worry, there is still one gingerbread house party left on Dec. 15, but Browning notes that parents need to sign themselves and their children up ahead of time. She teaches the workshop in her Happy Valley home and said that children as young as 3 are welcome to participate.

Browning is the owner of CookingThyme, based out of her home, and she teaches all kinds of classes and workshops, but she particularly enjoys the holiday season.

The period between Halloween and Christmas is her busiest time of the year, she said, noting that she also does Valentine’s Day classes for couples and goody decorating classes for children in February.

What does she like best about the gingerbread house workshops?

She just loves watching parents and children and siblings working together to express their creativity, Browning said.

At a recent workshop, she watched two brothers divide up their gingerbread house.

“They each took a side and it was fun to see how different each side was; it reflected each child’s personality,” she said.

Last year, she watched a twin brother and sister work together on a gingerbread house, building marshmallow snowmen to add to the outside.

“It was so sweet, just to see that family together; I savor those moments with kids,” she added.

The parents either help the children or just watch as they put their house together, and they enjoy meeting the other parents and participating in a relaxed Christmas tradition, Browning said.

“This activity nourishes relationships,” she said, adding that the kids tend to behave better at her house and the parents like the fact that the resulting mess is at her house, and not theirs.

Crystal Rodli’s two sons, Max, 9, and Soren, 5, recently participated in the workshop, and she said she just loved the fact that the two boys could build a gingerbread house, and all the stress was taken off her shoulders.

“Joan gave them structure and instructions, so they knew what to do. But then she just encouraged them to be creative, and told them what a good job they were doing,” Rodli said.

She added that she enjoyed the whole experience and that Browning “went all out for the kids. There was a cocoa bar with fancy cups, homemade treats and Christmas decorations — it was beautifully put together.”


Browning started CookingThyme in 2008, just as she was thinking about winding down her career as a middle school teacher in the David Douglas School District, where she taught family and consumer studies.

The class incorporated both cooking and sewing, and she especially noticed that her students loved to be in the kitchen.

She started her business with cooking classes on Saturdays only, with the help of two of her daughters, and then when she retired in June of 2011, she began working full time at CookingThyme.

The name came about because she knew she wanted to incorporate the thyme leaf in her logo, and when a friend sent her a list with possible business names, Browning spotted CookingThyme and knew instantly that was the right one.

She offers adult cooking classes, catering, family holiday activities and cooking camps for children.

Browning chose to teach most of her classes in her home, because, she said, “I love having people in my house. We live in a time when people don’t invite others into their homes anymore, but I want them to come into my home and realize they can do this at home.”

She is not a trained chef, and knows most people don’t have the time or energy to cook like chefs. Her goal is to teach her classes in a home atmosphere, so that the participants will see her preparing healthy food, and they will realize they can share these skills with the people they love.

In one of her adult classes, called Conquer the Kitchen, Browning teaches participants meal planning and how to organize their kitchens, and even accompanies them to the grocery store to help them stock their pantries.

After-school classes

Browning also does after-school programs, teaching children how to make nutritious breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Parents often don’t have the time, or they don’t make the time to nurture kids in that way, so she teaches basic cooking skills, child-safe knife skills and how to slice and chop.

“We make snowman pancakes for breakfast, because I try to make it fun,” she said, noting that each child receives a little cookbook with the recipes they’ve made.

“I just rent the space and the parents sign waivers and releases. I don’t use the cafeteria but bring my own griddle and burner,” Browning added.

Her next two children’s classes will take place in January at Mt. Scott and Scouters Mountain elementary schools, although she does not offer the classes through the school district.

“Kids love to do things with their hands, they love to do creative things with food, and they are so proud,” Browning said, adding that the kids often only take one bite of what they’ve made, so they can take the rest home to share with family members.

Fast facts

CookingThyme is located at 9803 S.E. Hillcrest Road, Happy Valley.

For information about upcoming classes for adults and children, visit or call 503-750-9161.

The last gingerbread house workshop for families is Dec. 15, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Reservations are required; visit the website or call.

Email Joan Browning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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