"I'd be sitting there thinking ‘her life must be perfect' as I sit in my basement crying in my wool socks!" laughed Aran Goyoaga, of her perspective of a musician/tattoo artist she has long admired from afar. It's the typical PGC scenario – comparing ourselves to a made up version of someone we see on social media. But Aran doesn't take it too seriously. "My life is far from perfect and so is everybody else's," she described. But it's that endearing self-deprecation Aran so often defaults to that defines her charm. Because Aran herself is pretty much the definition of admirable – without listing her numerous accolades, just check out her blog Cannelle et Vanille. Even her photographs stress the essential imperfectness that comes with food – because it's in that perceived flaw that the authentic sexiness of the subject truly comes alive (halle-freaking-lujah, friends! Is there any better metaphor??). And Aran is the first to admit that she has had her own brand of challenge when it comes to food itself:
"I used food as a kid to soothe anxiety (loaves and loaves of bread that gave me a terrible case of gluten-induced brain fog). Later in my early twenties, I deprived myself of it to prove control and create a sense of order." But she has turned that challenging relationship into not only the subject of her art, and a way to breed connection with others. "(Food) became a way of healing and feeling close to my family and finally, it has become a tool to tell stories of my work." Nowadays, Aran's work is, in large part, defined by food. And it's a rare kind of strength to allow oneself to be defined by something that once caused such strife. But that is precisely what gives Aran's work such depth. It's why she has chosen to revel in the flaws of something that once held such control of her life. It's why people are so entranced by both her work, and by her.
Do your best to tell your life story - in 250 words or less:
I was born on a winter day in Bilbao in the Spanish Basque Country. I was born in a large family of pastry chefs – a little fact that shaped my childhood, my vision of the world and what has turned out to be probably the biggest influence on my work. My dad worked as an engineer but was an artist at heart. He had a dedicated painting studio at home and really instilled in me the curiosity for art, light, texture and color. My mom worked at my grandparents' pastry shop so most of my time was spent there while watching my grandparents cook, bake, tell stories. There was always a stream of people coming and going through the pastry shop and even as a kid I felt there was something really special about that. The stories stuck with me.
I was an obedient child that followed rules and got good grades but I have always had a streak of rebellion even if it was buried inside myself. When I was 11, my parents started sending me abroad on summer exchange programs to study English, which led me to a passion for travel and how eventually I landed in the US. I studied business and economics in college in Bilbao but I was miserable and in my last year of university I developed a secret eating disorder, which surprisingly also brought me closer to what I do for a living now. In 1998, I married my American boyfriend and moved to Denver with a bad case of anorexia and two suitcases filled with CDs and books. After a short stint in the corporate world and after getting healthy, I enrolled in culinary school, worked in restaurants, started a food blog and the rest is kind of history.
Tell me about your youth in Spain.
My maternal grandparents opened the pastry shop in 1949. My mom was the oldest of eight children and I was the third grandchild so from early on my days were spent in the shop with grown-ups cooking. I remember a sense of warmth in the air, both in temperature but also in smell. The smell of milk and cinnamon sticks steeping is engrained in my brain. The most remarkable thing about growing up in a pastry shop in a small town was the sense of community. My grandmother would walk out onto the street with her apron on and talk to people passing by. Everyone knew my grandparents. They were respected and well liked in my little town. I felt a sense of pride being from the "Ayarza" clan (my grandfather's last name). Having this kind of childhood has made me seek that same set up over and over again. Having people over, cooking for them and sitting around a table conversing about politics, religion, food. Ideas and food were highly regarded.
This has created a slight sense of melancholy in me that I can never escape. I am always looking for projects that involve food but at the core of it, I want to tell stories.
How did you make your foray into photography?
My dad used to shoot a lot when I was a kid. He always had a camera with him and he even got into 8mm film. He encouraged me to shoot but I never thought I was any good so I didn't pursue it in any creative way. When I started my blog 8 years ago, I was forced to document these recipes I was creating and that ignited my passion for photography and visual storytelling. As soon as I began to have a good understanding of exposure, light and composition, my focus turned slightly more towards the visual side of the blog rather than simply recipes. Recipes were a vehicle for visual storytelling.
Tell me about your relationship with food, and how that plays into your work:
My relationship with food has always had two sides – one of soothing/emotional eating and one of artistic creation. I used food as a kid to soothe anxiety (loaves and loaves of bread that gave me a terrible case of gluten-induced brain fog). Later in my early twenties, I deprived myself of it to prove control and create a sense of order. After that, it became a way of healing and feeling close to my family and finally it has become a tool to tell stories and my work. It no longer holds that emotional power over me but I do still see it very much a place to begin a conversation, bring people together and tell stories.
When do you feel the most yourself? Why?
I can give you so many examples.
When I get to go mushroom hunting with my dad in the Basque Country. All the little hidden corners and forests he takes me to are the pinnacle of comfort. And his company.
My family and my home in Seattle make me feel at ease. I think it might be because it reminds me of mushroom picking with my dad in the Basque Country. Sitting around a table with friends and discussing ideas makes me feel comfortable. I love discussing, disagreeing, relating.
Also, I think it was Rachel Demy who said that good skin makes her feel like herself. I would have to agree with that
When do you feel the least yourself? Why?
Eating poorly and sleep deprivation can be a downward spiral for me. That's when the "I feel sorry for myself" begins…. It's no good.
What do you love about yourself?
That I am curious. I hope that my curiosity never dies because it's what keeps people interested and interesting. I would also say that I am empathetic and giving. I would do anything for the people I love.
What don't you love about yourself?
I wish I were more daring, fearless and risk-taker. As a kid, I went through a phase of paralyzing fear where I wouldn't leave my mom's sight. Overcoming fear and anxiety of the unknown are definitely one of my lessons in this lifetime. Also, I wish I loved exercising my body a lot more.
Talk about an instance in your life that made you feel the most vulnerable:
Overcoming my eating disorder left me really vulnerable. All the fears and anxieties that had been buried for years came up to the surface and my first instinct was to disregard them and shove them back in that little hidden closet. Admitting my problem to my parents was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
What did you do to make it through?
I gave myself a lot of breathing room and I distanced myself from people and situations that were aggravating it. It was a very, very slow transition. I went from not eating food at all to wanting to bake all the time (although I never ate what I baked). Eventually, the anxiety disappeared but it took time.
When is the last time you remember feeling incompetent?
Phew… I feel somewhat incompetent every day! When I see beautiful creative work I have a tendency to deem myself incompetent and for a moment, my inclination is to give up. It is usually short-lived but it does happen.
I feel incompetent in anything that resolves around home improvement, engineering, mechanics, tax laws, so many things.
How does social media shape the assumptions you make about people you follow?
There might have been a time, probably in the very beginning, that I was very inclined to feel sorry for myself while comparing my life to others. But that is long gone. My life is far from perfect and so is everybody else's. I have also been lucky enough to meet a lot of these people I follow on social media and people whose work I have admired. When you meet someone in person, you see them move, their face gestures, how they shake your hand, how they eat, they speak… the subtle textures that are hard to perceive on social media. Sometimes they are even cooler, sometimes not as cool. So at this point, I don't make assumptions about anyone anymore and I hope others don't make assumptions about me either.
Name one of your girl crushes:
Where do I begin? I have so many girl crushes. I always have. Some of my Seattle girl crushes have been featured on PGC before: Linda Derschang, Rachel Demy, Linnea Gallo, Kate Harmer…
I have so many amazing women in my life – they inspire me every day with their generosity and creativity. Seattle seems to be filled with intense feminine creative energy that is irresistible. I have crushes on all of my friends and I wish I could include all of them in this answer.
A couple of years before I moved to Seattle, Dorothee Brand and I made contact over email. We were both fans of one another's work and we bonded over photography (check out Dorothee's photography work!), our European roots, love for beautiful spaces and the longing for community while living far away from our families and roots. When my family and I finally made the move from Florida to Seattle, she was instrumental in helping me meet interesting people and places in the city. We now call her "the glue" because she really has this fluidity when it comes to connecting people. She is an eternal optimist and just happy person all around. A ball of energy and fun.
When was the last time you were guilty of judging a woman too quickly?
Honestly, I try not to judge people too often, but it did happen a couple of months ago. Over the summer, I began seeing images of this woman all over social media. She has a successful blog but it seemed very contrived to me. I am put off by overly styled, overly glamourized people and her image was just a bit ridiculous to me. She had tried to reach out over social media but I disregarded her a bit (not proud to admit that!) but I finally had a chance to meet her in person. She turned out to be one of the most grateful, sincere and humble women I have met through blogging. I love being reminded that everyone can really surprise us.
What frustrates you about the way women treat each other?
I don't like to be put in situations where I have to choose certain friends over others. Taking sides and the need for alliances frustrates me. I want to believe that my friends always have the best interest in mind. They would never purposely sabotage a friendship so I try not to take things too personally or get hurt easily. I get frustrated when women use the wolf-pack system for their own benefit and to put themselves in the mother-hen role. The "you cannot sit with us" attitude without actually saying the words. The passive aggressiveness can be quite strong with women.
What do you love about the way women treat each other?
I believe most women are empathetic, giving and very hopeful in nature. We have a strong survival instinct. Women see the importance in building community, share both knowledge and resources. I love when I can do things for my friends and I know my friends feel the same way about helping me.