For Aran Goyoaga, the Best Gatherings Are All About Feeling
When I’m feeling overwhelmed with life, my favorite remedy is to get in the kitchen, turn on a very chill playlist, and bake a cake. Aran Goyoaga’s lemon, yogurt, and olive oil poundcake from Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple, to be specific. I’ve been following Aran’s work for years, filling my pinboards with images of her beautifully-styled creations that reflect her roots in the Basque Country, while making the most of whatever’s in season in Seattle, where she now lives with her family. It’s always amazed me that Aran not only develops the most incredible gluten-free recipes; she also styles and photographs them with a true artist’s eye. And through her writing, she brings each recipe’s story to life in a way that evokes a truly emotional response (hence my aforementioned stress baking.)
On a recent trip to Seattle, Aran invited us to lunch in the backyard of her historic craftsman home. It was one of the first true sunshine-y days of spring, and there was a palpable joy as friends arrived to help arrange flowers, set the table, and carry dishes to the backyard. When I’m in the presence of such effortless beauty, I tend to get very curious—how does she pull off such a “perfect” gathering and make it look so easy? I learned from our conversations that Aran has built a life based on authenticity, and the way she cooks, gathers, and decorates her home are an outpouring of her truest essence.
Her choices are aligned with her values, and she’s created space in her life to cultivate her passions and gifts.
Read on for my interview with Aran Goyoaga—she shares her secrets to a truly satisfying meal including the incredible recipes she made for this lunch.
Aran Goyoaga on cooking
How did you learn to cook?
I grew up in a family of professional cooks and pastry chefs as well as in a culture that celebrates cooking above all. As a child, I just stood next to people cooking at all times of the day. It was our way of life. So as soon as I had some physical independence and was able to use knives, I cooked. I must have been 10 or 11 the first time I prepared a full meal for my family all on my own. My mom used to go to the fishmonger a few times a week, and it was my job to clean and gut the fish. Or helping my grandmother blanch and peel almonds to turn into marzipan.
What informs your approach to food?
Definitely my Basque upbringing, which is driven by seasonality, quality, dogmatic simplicity and a touch of puritanism, if you may. Not mixing too many ingredients together, making sure they are fresh and handled only enough to bring out their essence.
What’s your must-have cooking tool?
A sharp 10-inch chef’s knife is the most used tool in my kitchen. The one I have is from Wusthof.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
So many! This is hard to answer because I have a lot of cookbook author friends that I love and I wouldn’t want to exclude anyone by accident. Right now I am deep into Nigel Slater’s latest A Cook’s Book.
In general, I am drawn to author-driven books where the author’s POV is very present.
The story of Cannelle et Vanille
How did Cannelle et Vanille come to be?
In early 2008, after a two year hiatus from my work as a professional pastry chef, I started a blog, which I named Cannelle et Vanille (cinnamon & vanilla in French) after the smells of my youth in my grandparents’ pastry shop. I had no future goals or intention of turning the blog into anything beyond a space to share recipes with my friends and family in the Basque Country. There were a few food blogs around by that time but for the most part, blogging was still a pretty exciting place where you would randomly meet people with similar interests. It was very creative and still not overtaken by the need to turn it into a financially viable endeavor. In this space, I really honed my publishing skills of recipe writing, editing, and photography. I was a new mom and I had given myself a couple of years to decide what I wanted to do next. Such privilege!
As I spent time blogging, I realized I really wanted to explore this world of food in the context of publishing. I was hired for small writing pieces, photo shoots, contributing pieces, and in 2010, I decided to write a book proposal that turned into my first book Small Plates & Sweet Treats, which was published by Little, Brown in October 2012. I wrote and photographed the whole thing and it was the most intense learning experience I have ever had. I was proud of my work but when I think back, it is clear to me that I was still not fully formed as a writer and photographer. To be honest, the experience left me in a creative void for a while. I didn’t have anything else to say for a long time.
Shortly after, we moved to Seattle and in this new city, I felt the creative pull once again. But it took me another 5 years to start working on another book proposal. 5 years is a long time in publishing and I was rejected by many publishers. Finally, I signed on with Sasquatch, an independent Seattle publisher and in September 2019 my book Cannelle et Vanille was released. The book went through many iterations. I knew I wanted a book that was much more revealing, honest and even emotional than my first one, while still maintaining the practical function that a cookbook must serve. I revealed how I had suffered from depression, anxiety, and disordered eating years before and how all that had shaped me.
I also worked on a short video series called “A Cook’s Remedy” and its tone surrounded this book project as well. I loved working on this book. I had an amazing editor Susan Roxborough who helped me shape it. I love being edited and have an outside perspective from people I respect. As soon as I finished Cannelle et Vanille, I realized I still had so many baking recipes in me that I began working on Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple right away, which was published in October 2021.
On life in Seattle
Tell us about your beautiful home.
We moved to Seattle from South Florida in 2013. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I grew up with rain, fog, mountains, wind, the sea… and I felt suffocated by the heat in Florida. I also missed old buildings and some moodiness. Seattle was everything I had been missing. We knew we wanted to live close to downtown, in a walkable neighborhood, but still have trees and a relaxed feeling so we rented an old little bungalow home in Queen Anne. I fell in love with the neighborhood. A couple of months later, we began looking for a home to buy and immediately found our current home not far from that small rental. Everything fell into place quickly. As soon as the seller found out I was Basque, he shared with me stories of some Basque people he knew and it turns out they were friends of my aunt’s. Small world. It all felt like it was meant to be.
Our home is a craftsman house built in 1918. There had only been four or so homeowners in that time. It was in great shape and except the kitchen, it had the bones of the original house. I always wanted to live in an old home. It had beautiful woodwork and lots of light. We painted the walls, ripped out the old carpet, refinished the original wood floors, but for the most part, left it as it was. My husband renovated the kitchen in 2019 with the help of a friend. My friend Katie LeClercq designed it. My husband’s uncle built all the cabinetry. I love it more because it really was a project of love.
The kitchen is the heart of the home. We have a large island where people sit while I cook. I love my stoop in the summer and my little rose garden.
Walk us through a typical day for you.
My days vary depending on what I have going on with work. I wake up very early. Most days around 5am (sometimes earlier). I bake my sourdough bread at that time. I make coffee and I do barre3 livestream workout for about 45 minutes. I call my parents in Spain before my kids get up. We video conference everyday. My mom tells me about the market, what she made and my family. I love seeing their faces and even saying “what else?”. Meaning, we talk so much we run out of things to say.
When the kids get up, I make them breakfast, help them prepare lunch. My son is in high school and my daughter in middle school so they are independent but I still cook for them in the morning. Today, I made sourdough crepes. They thank me every time.
Once they are off to school, I start my day around 9am. Most days I wear a jumpsuit if I am cooking or photographing. I have been working on cookbooks non-stop since 2017 now and I love the process. I test recipes, I write or photograph. It’s very focused and sometimes isolating work, but it’s where I feel connected to creativity. My self worth is very tied to my output, which is very unhealthy but gives me purpose.
I work until 4pm. After that, I might drive my kids around to whatever activities they have going on. I make dinner, we eat in the kitchen very casually, we talk about our days and I am in bed by 9am (in the winter even 8:30pm). Rest is very important in my family. Everyday my mom will ask me how much I’ve slept and if I have rested. I don’t take naps now but it is something that I grew up with and I think we would all be better if our work life was structured to include one-hour rest time everyday.
Tell us a few things we’ll always find in your refrigerator?
Lots of vegetables, tahini, citrus, oat milk, sourdough starters of all kinds, eggs. Then a bunch of sauces that my husband buys. I don’t do condiments that much but half our fridge is full of his sauces.
Your go-to weeknight meal to eat at home?
When it’s just me for lunch, I love sauteing vegetables (broccolini, cauliflower, rabbe, chard…) in olive oil and garlic and serving them over hummus or tossing them with mai fun noodles and chili oil. I probably eat this 3 times a week for lunch. For dinner, I have to consider my family and I usually cook more for their taste than mine. My kids love braised chicken with mushrooms and broccolini, salmon with rice and greens and sprinkled toasted sesame, Spanish tortilla with a salad, lentil soup, paella… These are staples at our house.
How Aran hosts a gathering
What does a great gathering look like for you?
There is nothing more gratifying to me than feeding people. I haven’t really had people over since the pandemic started so I look forward to more summer gatherings.
I spend a lot of time prepping so then I can relax as much as possible when friends finally arrive.
The most important thing to me is that people feel relaxed, at ease, want to converse, jovial… “a gusto” as we say in Spanish.
I am not fussy with tablescapes, I love mismatched tableware, wrinkled linen pieces, vintage silverware and serveware…. Nothing that feels precious. But above all, I love a good conversation that flows. I even welcome peaceful and respectful arguments where people can say things without feeling judged. I love the flow of interesting ideas. This is also one of the things of my childhood I have carried with me. Conversation, sobremesa, and politics at the table were important in my family.
What are 3 products you love for the table?
I love ceramics by Janaki Larsen, Henry Street Studios, Feel Ceramics, Ryan Lee, Akiko Graham and Natasha Alphonse. I love vintage plates. Beeswax candles I get from Pillar Home Goods. Linen textiles from Rough Linen.
What scares you about entertaining?
Nothing scares me about entertaining because I never aim to entertain per se. I want people to feel welcomed and relaxed.
Your signature dishes for gatherings?
I like having things that can be made ahead of time and then reheated or finished at the last minute. For example, soup, a large stew or homemade pasta that can be cooked last minute. Dips and spreads that are made the morning of, roasted vegetables served at room temperature with some aioli, and simple desserts that can be made a la minute like pan-roasted fruit served with cream and crumble. Nothing too fussy.
In the summer, we grill pizzas outside which is super fun. Make the dough the day before and then we set up a table with toppings and let each person make their own pizza. Or grilling paella over open fire and then everyone serves themselves from the pan.
What’s one tip for someone who wants to host a gathering on a budget?
Pasta is always a good budget friendly meal that everyone loves. Roast a tray of vegetables and serve it with some sort of dip like romesco, aioli, even a light hummus. Then a large bowl of pasta with simple sauce, a green salad, and ice cream with crumbled cookies for dessert. It is very inexpensive and delicious.
Favorite question to get to know someone?
This is a hard question for me because I am shy and detest small talk. I just go straight to “where did you grow up and what was your family like” kind of questions. I like meaningful stories that shape people.
The perfect dinner party playlist includes:
I have a playlist on Spotify that has over 118 hours of music! It is very diverse and I play it all the time while cooking. For dinner time though, it depends. I think about music A LOT. So I will take into account who is coming over, their taste, time of year and what the mood is. Music and its volume should not stop conversation but should complement the mood.
Go-to centerpiece solution:
Depends in the season but something simple like branches from the garden, overgrown herbs, and beeswax candles.
What is your no-stress party rule to live by?
Go simple, prep early, clean as you go, and let people help.
Dream dinner guests?
I would love to share dinner with my grandparents again and ask them intimate questions about their lives. I never got to know them deeply once I became an adult and I am fascinated by their stories. I wish I could ask them questions about their ideas, inspirations, drive, how they made it through difficult times.
Fill in the blank:
A perfect meal should … leave you feeling loved
It’s not a dinner party without … conversation
Every cook should know how to … cook vegetables perfectly and fry eggs con puntilla