Celebrating spring, a Q&A with Aran Goyoaga
From the Spring 2020 issue of Maple
By Katharine Herringer | Photos by Aran Goyoaga
Aran Goyoaga is a cookbook author, blogger, food stylist, and photographer. The Cannelle et Vanille Instagram is a world-renowned culinary account, lauded by many. Aran was born and raised in the Basque Country, in northern Spain, where her maternal grandparents owned a pastry shop, and her paternal grandparents live off the land. Her blog, Cannelle et Vanille, is a two-time James Beard Award finalist.
Maple chats with Aran about the inspiration behind her work, her background and the launch of her beautiful new cookbook, Cannelle et Vanille, nourishing gluten-free recipes for every meal and mood.
Maple: You grew up in a pastry shop, surrounded as you say by women in aprons, tell us about your upbringing and now how it happen to find yourself living in the Pacific Northwest?
Aran: I want to clarify that men wore aprons as well! My mom is the oldest of 8 children—5 women and three men, all of which, except one of my aunts, ended up working in the pastry shop in one capacity or another and most of them wore aprons. Aprons represent a true kitchen; people are cooking and working in a very physical job, but one that is of service and makes the lives of others better. I equate aprons with nourishment and love. I grew up across the street from the pastry shop. My grandparents lived above the shop; this was the gathering place for my entire maternal family. I did my homework there, my friends knew to find me at the shop, and we ate most of our communal meals in the old kitchen.
I helped to deliver pastries and some prep jobs but becoming a pastry cook, and baker was not something that I thought was in my future. I studied business and economics in university even though I wasn’t passionate about it at all and struggled with depression and an eating disorder throughout those years. I had an American boyfriend, and when I graduated from university, I came to the US to spend time with him and ultimately stayed. I fumbled around my first few years in this country working in traditional marketing jobs, but I hated it. When we moved to Florida, I decided to enrol in culinary school. I completed an 18-month pastry program while also working as a pastry cook in various restaurants. When I graduated, I worked at a 5-star hotel for three years until I had my son. I quit the professional kitchen in 2006, and for those first years in my son’s life, I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to continue baking, but I knew it wasn’t going to be in the same way. In January 2008, I started my blog Cannelle et Vanille, and that’s when everything changed for me; I found this venue of writing, styling and photographing. In 2010, I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, and in 2012 I published my first cookbook Small Plates & Sweet Treats. We moved to Seattle in 2013 for a change in scenery and have never looked back.
Maple: Was it a big shift for you, from a food culture perspective from the Basque Country to North America?
Aran: I had spent time in the US as a teenager during various summer exchange programs and then a full year of high school living with an American family, so I understood the food culture well. The main difference I found was that Americans ate a lot more “industrialized” food than I ever saw in the Basque Country. I didn’t grow up eating cereal or frozen dinners or powdered cheeses in bags. We always ate real food with a big emphasis on seasons and vegetables and fish. Most Americans I met didn’t know how to prepare or eat fish. I also noticed that Americans thought of cooking as an extensive entertaining event and not so much cooking daily even if it was humble food as fuel. Cooking had to be these big classic French meals. In the Basque Country, people cook for themselves every day, and even though we have our indulgent meals, there is an ingrained sense of eating well to nourish yourself.
Maple: Tell us about your health challenges that brought you to exploring a gluten-free lifestyle? How challenging was it for you, to get similar results as from conventional grains?
Aran: With my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and my second pregnancy with Meniere’s disease—both are autoimmune. I struggled with my health for nearly a year after my daughter was born with vertigo attacks nearly every 4 to 5 days, rapid weight loss, hearing loss and anxiety. I went to several doctors, but none knew how to deal with the underlying autoimmune disorder. They could only offer me relief for the symptoms I was feeling. But then I came across a functional neurologist based in Texas (I was living in Florida at the time). I emailed him, and he started treating me over the phone and tested me for all these genetic markers in multiple tests. I was gluten intolerant, anaemic, had bacterial intestinal infections, and my vitamin levels were extremely low. Immediately, he put me on an eating protocol and started taking all these supplements, and my symptoms disappeared. For nine months, I was on an autoimmune protocol of no grains, sugar, dairy, and caffeine.
I felt great. I slowly introduced foods except for gluten, which I haven’t had in 10 years. I was so excited to be healthy again that all I wanted to do was start experimenting with alternative grains for baking. I never felt like giving up gluten was a big chore because I had felt so lousy for so long. Even today, I don’t miss it. I am so happy to have my health. I had experimented with buckwheat, teff, quinoa and other gluten-free grains during my pastry chef days but always in conjunction with wheat. I had a good understanding to start with, and then I just went for it.
Maple: We can only imagine what a beautiful space you work in, from the aesthetics of your food styling. Tell us about the emotional side of cooking for you?
Aran: Thank you. I have a studio kitchen where I do most of my work, but I also work from home a lot after renovating our kitchen. I think most people have an emotional connection to food and cooking because it is part of our identity as different communities form and inherent family traditions. In my case, cooking and baking, in particular, was my family’s identity. When I left the Basque Country in 1998, I was under the throes of my eating disorder, something I was keeping a secret. I left my family quite abruptly, without giving them any notice, while hiding this obsession with food and this sense of restriction that was very intense. My depression and isolation were so strong that I felt I even had to hide that from them, so I left. My parents were devastated, but I didn’t want to be a burden for them. When I started my journey to healing, food was not only what brought me physical nourishment but also opening back up to my family and what they had represented in my life. Cooking was how we communicated and expressed love and appreciation for one another. And that is still a big part of my life. Opening myself to others through the act of cooking for them—sitting around a table or even on a stoop or whatever it might be, is a way for us to communicate, reflect and heal.
Aran: I nourish myself in many ways, through cooking, and by spending a bit of time in nature, conversing (conversations are incredibly renewing to me), travelling, spending time with friends and family. I spend quite a bit of time by myself during the day, especially while working on books and personal projects. I am usually the first one up around 5 am before my kids get up. I sit with myself and set intentions for the day. I like having ample time in the morning. Making a pot of French-press [coffee], when no one is awake, is one of my favourite pleasures. I catch up on news and email then. My days vary; sometimes, I am working for a client at a studio, sometimes for myself. Often I spend afternoons with my kids trying to finish up work while they play. It’s a juggling act, but I love the flexibility. I make dinner nearly every night, and I am usually in bed by 9:30. I cherish my sleep. I try to close my day by doing a bit of mindful reflection about what happened, how I felt, and how I reacted. A bit of introspection, you know?
Maple: Tell us about “Cannelle et Vanille - Nourishing, Gluten-Free Recipes for Every Meal and Mood”, and what was your intention with your 2nd cookbook?
The book went through different iterations. It started heavy on memories and personal story. I wanted to surround the recipes and the book with the context of my life and especially my struggle with depression and anorexia, but I also wanted the book to be celebratory and utilitarian. We condensed a bit of the story component, but I think the essence and feeling are still there—that of cooking being tied to family, to the ones that surround us and to ourselves. My recipes are gluten-free and nourishing, but I never want them to feel restrictive or part of some fad way of eating. I want the recipes to be simple but have something that elevates them. I also wanted the photography to feel evocative of a place and time. The book feels a bit like a world suspended in time, personal, but at the same time universal.