IT’S SO CLEAR when you’re seeing a meal through Aran Goyoaga’s eyes.
The Seattle author and photographer has a serene, contemplative style that makes the plainest ingredients look like models in a still-life painting: leggy stalks of crimson rhubarb nestled in a round of golden puff pastry, nettle-green vegetable soup topped with a raw scatter of asparagus tips and radish, a garden pumpkin transformed into a petal-edged Bundt cake.
Artistically, Goyoaga’s radar is tuned to natural light and shadows, to colors that are muted — she thinks of them as “taciturn” — to gorgeous images from windfallen quince on a marble counter to dusty-rose magnolias against a periwinkle sky.
“I use photography to enhance a feeling. It’s a lot like creating a world that you can go to and inhabit a little,” she says from her kitchen studio, a light-filled haven in a century-old Belltown building.
Close to 300,000 Instagram followers look in at that dreamy world, which Goyoaga intends as a source of nourishment and comfort, not an aspirational competition.
“This is my personal taste, or the moments that interest me that I photograph. Nobody should take that as a literal representation of how beautiful my life is.”
Cooking has become like a mast on a sailboat for her, helping direct her through life experiences that have included anxiety and an eating disorder, as well as global travels and leaps of faith.
“I’m a very practical, pragmatic person, but I’m also driven very much by this spiritual quest, spiritual in the sense of healing,” she says.
Goyoaga’s professional work includes heavy-duty corporate clients like Amazon Home and photography credits on various cookbooks. The personal vision comes directly through her long-lived food blog “Cannelle et Vanille,” a two-time finalist for the James Beard Award; through social media; and through the cookbooks she wrote and photographed herself. Her latest release, “Cannelle et Vanille: Nourishing, Gluten-Free Recipes for Every Meal and Mood” (Sasquatch Books, $35), draws on her own life story, and recipes she hopes will be important in readers’ lives the way they are in hers.
Goyoaga’s journey began at her childhood home in the Spanish Basque country. That region is closer in spirit to the Northwest than people generally think: mountainous, rainy and green. Her grandparents ran a pastry shop that was a center of activity for the community, and she named her blog after the cinnamon and vanilla scents that were her earliest memories.
“My parents knew education was the way to freedom,” she says, and she earned a business degree at a prestigious university. Her several student-exchange experiences included a “life-changing” year in Colorado with a family more freewheeling than her own restrained, introverted self.
In her childhood home, art was important, but “something to feed your soul, not your family,” she recalls. In time, she saw she needed it to be something more.
Goyoaga married an American citizen and eventually left her corporate job, going on to culinary school and a new career as a pastry chef. She spent long hours in top kitchens, then left to stay home with her young children. Living outside the family supports built into Spanish culture, “I did not foresee how much it impacts one’s work and the choices one has to make,” she says.
Ultimately, those choices brought her into food blogging, where her art in the kitchen was transformed into art on the page.
She hopes the book will fill a cooking gap in readers’ lives, including the sterling cakes and breads she’s developed since health issues led her to a gluten-free diet. More than that, she wants it to be important to them, so, “When they need a space of solace, that they go to the book, like Nigel Slater does for me, or Diana Henry …
“I get that a lot through photography and words, this world of comfort.”
Rice Pudding with Plums
Makes 6 servings
1¾ cups water, divided
1 cup Arborio rice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 cups whole milk or almond milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
6 plums, halved and pitted (see note)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios
2 tablespoons coconut flakes, toasted
1. Combine 1½ cups of the water, rice and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 7 minutes, or until the water is almost completely absorbed. Stir in the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean and seeds. Using a vegetable peeler, peel a 3-inch piece of orange zest, and add to the pan. Increase the heat to medium high, and return to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and continue cooking, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked and creamy.
2. Meanwhile, squeeze the juice of the orange into a small saucepan over high heat. Add the plums and remaining ¼ cup of water. Cook until the plums soften and create a light syrup, about 5 minutes. You can add a bit of sugar if the plums are too tart.
3. To serve, remove the vanilla bean and orange peel from the rice. Divide the rice among bowls, and top with the plums, pistachios and coconut.
Note: Goyoaga says any fruit would work for this not-too-sweet breakfast porridge: “Orange juice-stewed dried fruit is great in the winter; use fresh berries in the summer.”