It’s About So Much More Than Calories
Jonathan: Hey, everyone. Jonathan Bailor, back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Excited and a little scared for today’s show. I know that sounds a little bit funny, but our guest is a wonderful guest. Our guest has a name which I have a hard time saying and also a blog which I have a hard time saying, so I would have to ask everyone to stick with me here. I promise if you get through my bumbling, you will be rewarded with a wonderful conversation.
We have a trained pastry chef who has found just amazing ways to provide beautiful, whole food dishes that the whole family can enjoy. They’re gluten-free. I just think it’s great because she shows us how ‘constraints’ in the kitchen can actually lead to wonderful creativity and health. She’s won all sorts of awards. She’s written the lovely cookbook ‘Small Plates and Sweet Treats’ and of course, she is the author of the award-winning blog ‘Cannelle et Vanille’ and she is Aran Goyoaga. Did I get even close to it?!
Aran: That was perfect. Thank you.
Jonathan: Oh, lovely! Aran, thank you so much for your forgiveness and for coming on this show. I appreciate it.
Aran: Thank you for having me.
Jonathan: Aran, before we get into your recipes and all this fun stuff, can you tell us a bit about your journey and your story that led you up to this point?
Aran: How far should I go? Let’s see. I was born and raised in the Basque Country in northern Spain and I moved to the US when I was 24. My family has a pastry shop, so I grew up around food and chefs and pastry chefs, and my father’s parents were farmers, so food has always been a big part of my life and cooking and baking.
I didn’t initially go to school for pastry but after going to business school and I even earned a Masters in business, I decided that I needed a change of careers and I ended up going to culinary school to pursue my passion in pastry. I went to school for pastry in the US and I think it was kind of the longing for my childhood and things that tied me to my family. So I learned from French chefs and flour and sugar and butter and all these things, and I worked as a pastry chef for about 4-5 years before I had a baby.
At that time, with both of my pregnancies, I started to develop autoimmune conditions; first, Hashimoto’s, which is a thyroid disease, and then Meniere’s, which is an inflammation of the inner ear that gives me vertigo. I was really sick and debilitated and I couldn’t find any doctor to help me until I found a functional neurologist who was a chiropractor who suggested that perhaps I have food sensitivities. He ran a bunch of tests for me and it turns out that I have genetic gluten intolerance and that’s when I had to make a shift in my diet. I always felt like I was ever a healthy person and I ate and cooked a very healthy diet, but wheat was making me very sick.
Jonathan: That then took you on this path. I just love this so much – in your book trailer, I think you literally say this or something very close to it – again, that’s the book trailer for ‘Small Plates and Sweet Treats’ – that being selective about the ingredients you use in the kitchen is not limiting; in fact, it can almost be expanding and spawn creativity. Like in writing, if you’ve tried to write a Haiku and there are constraints, that sometimes actually explodes creativity rather than limiting it.
Aran: Yes, absolutely! I think people have this misconception. You can naturally eat gluten-free foods and savory foods, but for baking, it’s a little bit more constraining, if you want to recreate something that is very specific, like a replica out of wheat flour or baked goods. You know what I mean?
If you think about it, instead of just having wheat flour, I have all these other flours that I can work with. I have different flavors, different textures and that is so interesting to me. Having been a pastry chef myself and always looking for new textures and flavors, that’s what I enjoy doing anyway. So this was actually an awesome opportunity. I love shopping so if I go to a grocery store and I have all these different flours to choose from, I’m like a kid in a candy store because there’s so much to play with.
Jonathan: I love it. Aran, I know it is, very certainly, recipe by recipe, and it’s hard to say anything that is global, but what are some of your go-to staples in your kitchen for this gluten-free baking and delicious experience that you provide?
Aran: Well, I don’t like to use an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but because I just like to play around and I like to experiment, I tackle each recipe individually and I think, “Okay, so I’m making a tart crust and I’m pairing it with strawberries.” Well, maybe I’ll put buckwheat in there just because I love strawberries and buckwheat. I think about different ways, but there is kind of a – and I wouldn’t even say a ‘ratio’ because that feels very constrictive – but most of the time, I’m bad at this ratio thing, but I think I do about 60% of whole grain flour and sometimes it’s a mixture. Sometimes it is super-fine brown rice flour and maybe quinoa flour; although quinoa is not a grain, it’s a seed. Kind of those flours. Then I incorporate, let’s say, 25% or 30% nut flour and then 10% or 15% of a starch. That varies, but I do have those percentages in my recipes, I would say.
Jonathan: I think it’s so exciting, Aran, because I know some of the listeners to our show – a lot of people who listen to our show – don’t eat any form of starch and they try to steer away from added sugars and things like that, but what you do so well in your work is you embody two things. One, food is amazing. It is way beyond just nutrients or anything. It’s about bringing family together. It’s about ties to your heritage and your history.
It’s so unfortunate that we’ve lost a lot of that in mainstream culture but, in addition, if folks just eat food. Food is defined by, like you talk about, things that are in nature, things that are natural, things that are not manufactured goop. You can be surprisingly healthy and happy while enjoying such a diversity of options and it really just shows how far from just eating food we’ve gotten as a culture.
Aran: Yes. I never grew up thinking of food, whether it’s healthy or not. I know that doesn’t sound very good, but my family always just cooked everything from scratch and so we ate lentils and legumes, vegetables, fish, meat. So we ate lots of different things. We also ate sugar in moderation.
I never had this thing with food that was evil or good. I never had kind of an attachment to food in those ways. I never obsessed about it and I tried to think about just having something healthy and nourishing and full of good properties, but also enjoyable. So maybe my book’s not strictly a health book – and I never intended it to be a health book. I think it’s like when people obsess about specific things and it becomes sort of a…. I don’t know how to explain it.
Jonathan: Well, the perspective you’re bringing on here is perfect. It’s literally this crazy paradox we’re experiencing. You said it perfectly. Growing up, you didn’t try to be healthy. People didn’t try to be healthy, up until about 40 years ago when everyone started getting sick and overweight. They just ate food and cooked at home.
Aran: Yeah. My mom worked outside of the house, so it’s not like she was at home all the time and her only concern was cooking food. But for her, cooking us a good meal was very important. So she would wake up in the morning and she would make lentil soup before she left for work and then she would re-heat it when we all came home for lunch. We actually went home for lunch, had lunch, and then went back to school. I think also the life, the way I grew up in Spain – and it’s still the same – was very much centered about having a meal as a family, which happened to be lunch. To this day, I do the same thing if I have appointments.
I try to cook my lunch before I leave the house so I come home for lunch or dinner. I know there’s going to be something there to eat and I’m not going to be starving and stressed out about what to make. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I think a lot of people, when they think of cooking, they think of entertaining and they think of, “Okay, I’m going to do a Julia Child kind of fancy dinner.” It’s not. It can be as simple as just braised chicken with some vegetables and some green beans and a salad. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it’s having something that you’ve cooked and you know it doesn’t come from a package. That’s just how I approach it.
Jonathan: You’re obviously a very busy woman. You’re, I believe, a mother of two. Is that correct?
Jonathan: So a mother of two, published author, you have this blog, you’re a photographer; you’re not just any photographer or blogger. Folks, if you haven’t seen ‘Cannelle et Vanille’, which is spelled – because I’m probably horribly mispronouncing it – cannellevanille.com. You don’t play around. You do high-quality stuff. So, is it just a matter of priority to make time for food?
Aran: I have to admit, I’m also lucky because my life revolves around food so I’m already in the kitchen as it is. I’m not driving an hour to an office and spending all day in an office. I don’t have that kind of life. I am cooking in a kitchen all day. Well, I wouldn’t say every day; but yes, I do spend a lot of time around food and that’s what I enjoy, so it’s easy for me.
Jonathan: Do people ask you, “This is all wonderful. You’ve given me this amazing tool chest. Now, how do I actually go use it?”
Aran: Yeah, and I think that’s a very individual thing. Ask me to paint my house or things that I don’t really enjoy doing and, I have to admit, even going to the gym, it’s hard for me to make time for those things that I don’t enjoy so much. So it’s a very personal thing and I definitely don’t judge anybody for not being in the kitchen all day, but it is very important.
We definitely believe that we are what we eat and our minds function according to the fuel that we put in our bodies. If there isn’t anything more important than that then I don’t know.
Jonathan: Aran, I just…
Aran: Sorry, I keep going on a tangent, but to answer your question, I think it is about planning. Even if you can only go shopping one day a week – make a trip to the farmer’s market and get staples and plan. You don’t have to cook every day, but maybe you make a pot of soup one day. I love my freezer. I freeze leftovers and sometimes I just pull out some leftover lentil soup and re-heat it. So it is about planning, I think.
Jonathan: I think you do a great job of bringing a couple of worlds together. Whenever I read your work and I see your blog, it reminds me of the simplicity of health and avoiding obesity and diabetes that used to exist which is, just cook food and eat it and if it isn’t something you would recognize in nature, you probably shouldn’t put it in your body.
You also layer on top of it the ‘modern technological and medical advancements’ we’ve had, in terms of avoiding things like gluten, and how you don’t necessarily need to turn to Frankenfoods; you can just substitute other whole foods. Correct?
Aran: Yes, and I think that there is this misconception that a gluten-free diet can be healthy – which it can – but it can also be not healthy, because I think a lot of companies are just jumping on the fad. I don’t think it’s a fad, but I think there’s such a market that they just want to, “Okay, you’re not going to have wheat brownies, but now you can have gluten-free brownies that are loaded with sugar.” Who wants to eat that? It’s not about that.
I never even wanted necessarily to make my book about, “Oh, here’s a gluten-free cookbook.” It happens to be gluten-free but it’s just about using other ingredients and things that are interesting and, “Yeah, I can’t have wheat, but I can have this other stuff and I can still be healthy.”
Jonathan: I love that focus. Because we see that – whether it be gluten-free or whether it be low-carb or whether it be vegetarian or vegan – where these approaches are initially directed at health, then big business gets their hands on them and just makes processed garbage that also fits in that box. So it’s like the common denominator is: Don’t eat processed garbage. First, enjoy food, savor it; savor your heritage, savor that time with your family. Get back to what every person who lived prior to the current generations did and you will be surprised at how delicious and healthy your life will be.
Aran: Yes. Another thing I wanted to say too is, I have a lot of people that write to me and they share my same health issues like Hashimoto’s. They want to know ‘Did I feel better as soon as I gave up gluten?’ Well, there is a process there. When I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, it’s an immune system response, so my doctor suggested that, to calm down my immune system, I almost had to give up everything. I had to do sort of a Paleo diet for about 3 months. So I gave up gluten, dairy, soy, nuts – anything that can be allergenic to the body – I had to give up and then start introducing – so, an elimination diet.
For those who are giving up gluten for health reasons, you can’t just go and say, “Well, I am having issues with gluten, but I want to go have gluten-free bread that’s loaded with tapioca starch.” That’s not going to do anything to you. It’s not going to make you feel better either, because you need to really just calm down your body and nourish it with the things that are full of nutrients and then start introducing the other stuff.
So yeah, I don’t want to take things lightly and say, “I just gave up gluten and I got healthy again.” There is a process of thinking about food in a healthy way and nourishing your body. As an everyday cooking philosophy or eating philosophy, I just think we need to eat a variety of foods that are whole, like you said, and the more nutrients, the better.
I still eat sugar every once in a while and I made banana bread yesterday and enjoyed it with my friends and it had sugar in it, but it’s about the balance, I think, and not getting fixated on one thing. I mean, I have a very ‘all-or-nothing’ personality, so if I do get fixated on them, then I’ll end up bingeing or I’ll end up going the opposite way. So it’s about trying to maintain a healthy relationship with food, too.
Jonathan: Aran, that’s why I wanted to have you on this show. Folks, again, please do check out Aran’s work. Again, that’s cannellevanille.com – because you can just see the words you use – I just love this! You’ve got to have a calm approach, nourish, it’s a process, think through it. Even the vibe – that vibe is not the vibe we’re presented with when people generally talk to us about disease and health and obesity. It’s like, “Quick, fix now! Pill, powder, potion. Hararara,” whereas, we see more and more – and you’re a perfect example of – that there is an alternate path that seems so much more enjoyable.
Aran: Yeah. Again, I’m not any advocate for anything, I’m just speaking from my experience but, when I got very ill with vertigo and Meniere’s and I lost my hearing; it was a really, really difficult time. I just had a baby and I was bed-ridden almost every day in bed. So I went to several ENTs and they just could not help me. All they could do was prescribe pills and Valium and all this stuff. I was nursing a baby so I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding just so I could take pills. I was very frustrated with the whole process. Then when somebody said, “It could be your food actually that you’re eating.” It was like, “Yeah, of course it is! Why not explore that option first and then see if other things can help me further, if this doesn’t help?” – which it did, right away.
So I get frustrated with the disconnection between medicine and… Not to say that medicine is not helpful – it is very helpful and it helps a lot of people – but there are certain cases, especially when there are things that are chronic disease and when nothing else helps, why not explore the option of diet and lifestyle and exercise and relieving stress?
Jonathan: Especially why not, when you can see that out the other end, as embodied by your work, is delicious food? It’s delicious food! We’re just talking about eating delicious food!
Jonathan: Because I think people have that false dichotomy where it’s like, “It’s this burden, this drudgery, and I’m going to eat celery sticks and cabbage soup all day.” False! False!
Aran: Well, when I did the elimination diet, I have to say, it was actually fairly difficult to carry on. I mean, that was not sustainable for me because I want to be able to eat eggs in the morning and there were certain things I couldn’t eat for a little bit. But after that, I just feel better. And my friends – they can’t believe that half of the things I make – not half – everything I make, they can’t believe that they’re gluten-free. They just have this misconception that it’s going to be cardboard-like and just tasteless and that’s not true. Actually, when you start incorporating whole grain flours or nut flours or using coconut milk, I mean, all that stuff tastes really good!
Jonathan: I love it. Speaking of deliciousness, Aran, what’s next for you? Just continue to create deliciousness? Do you have other things in the pipe? What’s next for you?
Aran: My book came out about 9 months ago and I’m still promoting it and I have some events coming up. I will continue to do photography workshops. I just want to continue doing what I’m doing, which is develop recipes and write about them and photograph them and present them in a way that gets people in the kitchen and thinking about what they’re eating and inspiring that way. So, always having that goal, whatever the format.
Jonathan: I love it. Well, it’s certainly a noble goal of helping people to live better lives while eating delicious food. So, thank you for doing that and thank you for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Aran: Thank you for having me.
Jonathan: Listeners, again, we’ve been talking about the delightful Aran Goyoaga. She is the award-winning proprietor of cannellevanille.com. Also, the author – and I will say this correctly – so you could find this, then you could find everything else. Her cookbook is called ‘Small Plates and Sweet Treats’. If you type that into Google, you’ll find all the things I just horribly mispronounced. I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. Please remember, this week and every week after – eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.