Laura McLeod
Ballard residents Paula and Jennifer prepare tamales at the Ballard Community Center's first community kitchen May 18. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE PHOTOS.

Green My Ballard: Food to go

Cooking has mostly been a solo activity for me, even though I often cook for others. I love to cook, spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and enjoy exploring new recipes, cooking styles and cuisines. But, I haven’t taken a hands-on cooking class, so the idea of a “community kitchen” had me wondering what they were all about.

Community kitchens are springing up all over the city. The newest, in Ballard, had its first evening of communal cooking on May 18 at the Ballard Community Center.

More than a dozen enterprising cooks of varied ages signed up in advance for the informal cooking session, which for $25 (scholarships available), includes all the – mostly local – ingredients, a culinary lesson, camaraderie and better-than-take-out prepared food to go. Participants each bring jars and containers to take home the ready-to-eat meals.

On the menu? Something I’ve never thought to make: Tamales – cheese with chiles and black beans with squash. The group also made a variety of flavorful salsas and a Mexican garlic vegetable soup.

Food blogger Sarah Elmore planned and led the evening, shopped the Ballard Farmers Market on Sunday for fresh vegetables, then supplemented with additional ingredients from Ballard Market.

The “cooks” chopped, mixed, stuffed, folded, steamed and finally ate and packaged everything to go.

One of the more memorable flavors of the evening was the tart rhubarb salsa (find the recipe at Sarah’s blog, Locally Preserved). A bit spicy for some, the heat can be adjusted, and one taster thought adding apples would sweeten it nicely. This is a great recipe for that summer rhubarb surplus! Freeze it if you make too much.

A partnership between Seattle Parks and Recreation (and the city-run Ballard Community Center), Seattle and King County health departments and Sustainable Ballard, the kitchen is an all-volunteer program. Volunteers plan, prepare for, lead and clean up after each event.

“Parks and Rec came to Sustainable Ballard and asked if we were interested in supporting the program,” said Sustainable Ballard’s Food and Health Guild lead, Jennifer Mundee. “Our mission is to educate folks about the benefits of choosing seasonal, healthy, local foods, so this is a natural fit.”

Makes sense! Cooking communally seems to save money, build community, help people eat more healthfully and contribute to environmental sustainability – a win in every way.

To keep it really local and sustainable, Ballard Community Center director Barb Drake offered the group the largest portion of the community garden behind the center. Herbs planted at a May 8 work party will spice up future dishes.

When asked why the health departments are involved, Diana Vinh, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Section at Public Health of Seattle and King County, said, “Public Health is exploring community kitchens as a potential way to encourage healthier eating.”

She pointed me to a Community Kitchens Northwest article about the health benefits of cooking classes.

Curiosity led me to kitchens in other parts of the world. From their Web sites, kitchens in England, Australia and Vancouver, B.C., appear to be thriving.

Our local kitchens began in 2007 and were modeled on the highly successful Vancouver program. The Puget Sound area now has nine such kitchens, with Community Kitchens Northwest as the umbrella organization.

The kitchens replace Sustainable Ballard’s popular canning series and will be held throughout the summer on the third Tuesday of each month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Ballard Community Center, located at 6020 28th Ave. N.W.

Sarah will lead the next one – Thai food – on June 15. Participants in the workshop will decide the theme for the next class.

I couldn’t stay through the end of the evening, so I later asked Ballard resident Kari Stoltenberg what she thought.

“This is a great thing!" she said. "I had fun, I got to take home some good food and I met some new people. There seemed to be a good mix of skill level, too.”

For more information or to register, call 206.684.4093 or visit Seattle Parks and Recreation (click SPARC/lifelong learning/ cooking). Cost is $25 per person per session (scholarships are available) and advance registration – online, by phone or in person at any community center – is required.

And sign up soon! The kitchens are sure to fill up quickly if the May 18 gathering was any indication. And, remember to bring small and large containers to take food home with you.

Laura McLeod is a Ballard native who returned 12 years ago. She has a community garden in her yard that was a family garden for more than a century. She's a passionate advocate for sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, gardening, conscious consumption and cultural difference.

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Green My Ballard: Food To Go

This article was great! It made me want to move to Seattle and participate. A nice mix of enthusiasm for the subject and factual information. I'll be looking for more articles by this writer.