A I grew up near Bilbao and moved to the US in 1998, when I married my American boyfriend. We originally lived in Florida but moved to Seattle in 2013 because we were looking for a different lifestyle – Seattle is pretty much the polar opposite of Florida geographically and culturally! It’s a wonderful place to bring up our two children, Jon, who is 10, and Miren, who is six.
Q You came to food writing and styling after studying business and economics. Why did you choose to begin your own food business rather than embarking on a corporate career?
A I grew up in a family of chefs. My grandparents owned a pastry shop and all my aunts and uncles worked as chefs. My mom ran the front of the house and we spent our childhood in the kitchen. It really is all I know. I studied business and economics because of the social pressure to get a degree that would provide job security but it was by no means vocational. At the time, being a baker was out of the question; I had to reach higher in my parents' eyes. But in the corporate worlds I couldn't find anything I could obsess about like I could obsess about food.
A When I became pregnant with my son, the doctor discovered I had thyroid antibodies so I started being treated for Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Then when I became pregnant with my daughter, I started having all the symptoms of Meniere's disease – vertigo, dizziness, hearing loss, anaemia, weight loss, anxiety. For both conditions, diet was never explored as a cause or an aggravator. The symptoms got so bad that I started digging deeper on my own until I found a functional neurologist who suggested the relationship between diet and autoimmune conditions. Testing revealed I had gluten intolerance, anaemia, bacterial infection in my gut and other issues. We addressed them through diet and supplements. Initially I had to give up all grains, dairy, soya, sugar, caffeine, chocolate, eggs and nuts. I immediately felt so much better and the vertigo episodes disappeared. Now I am on a gluten-free diet and my autoimmune issues are under control. Dairy and grains can be inflammatory for me so I try to have periods of time where I don't indulge too much.
Q Do your children and partner also eat gluten free?
A My son has chronic migraines and diet is very important for him as well; not so much for my husband and daughter.
Q Is there something particularly empowering about improving your health and wellbeing through what we eat?
A For me, the difference between feeling well and feeling bad is so intense that I have a very intense motivator to eat the way my body really needs to eat. That’s not to say I don't indulge – I do – but I’m in tune with my body and I immediately know if a food isn’t good for me.
A I think a lot of how I want people to feel when I cook is really what I felt as a kid when I ate my family's food; a sense of comfort and ease. My blog is called Cannelle Et Vanille (cinnamon and vanilla) because those are the smells and tastes of my childhood and, for me, eating is very much filled with nostalgia.
Q How does your Spanish background feed into the food you cook now?
A I am very informed by Basque cuisine because that is what I ate growing up. Basque cooking is all about the ingredients; nothing is fussy. My approach is to keep things very simple but to pay lots of attention to texture. Basque food doesn't really have a lot of gluten or dairy in it, so it's been simple to eat that way.
Q What are your favourite dishes for when you're feeling stressed, need something quick and healthy to eat, or want to treat yourself?
A When I am stressed I definitely resort to all the things that are bad for me, like chips and crackers or lots of bread (even if they are gluten free)! For something quick and easy, I make a bowl of guacamole with soft cooked eggs. For a treat, I'll go out to eat pho. Good pho is everything to me.
Discover more about Aran’s approach to food and wellbeing at www.cannellevanille.com