Home, what a beautiful word. I’ve just returned from traveling in the Basque Country in Northern Spain and Southern France nestled in the Pyrénées mountains and along the Atlantic coastline. I was there for a food and lifestyle photography workshop with
Aran Goyoaga of Canelle et Vanille and Nadia Dole of laporterouge . I went with the hope of gaining a greater knowledge about the food and lifestyle photography business, food styling, composition and story telling through images. What I went away with was this and vastly more. I can easily say it was one of the most rich and saturated experiences in my life. It will likely take a few post to properly unravel the events jumbled in my head and heart in order to share it with you. I hope you will follow along as I attempt to illustrate the beauty and rich culture of the Basque Country through my lens.
This blog belongs first to my children. It is my way to archive the life we share through food, culture and tradition. So, I need to begin by saying Thank You for the beautiful gift they gave to me by allowing a busy mom 12 days to be completely out of their daily lives. They were so selfless and gracious in their desire to see me experience this adventure. A friend spoke with my 13 yr old son at Mass on Sunday and asked how he was doing in my absence. He replied, “I miss her, but she’s in a better place” We got a laugh out of this comment as though I’d passed on permanently. The fact of the matter was that all of my children had the selfless attitude that this trip for their Mom was above their immediate needs. I am so humbled by their good hearts and return feeling even more blessed to be their Mom. My wonderful husband stepped up to fill my shoes seamlessly, gaining personal joy from my ability to have this experience. Marriage is sometimes difficult and requires tremendous effort. I returned with a full grateful heart for his love for me. Hopefully this emotion will stay with me the next time I feel doubt. For now, all is good.
So, my travels took me from Chicago to Madrid to Bilbao, then by car to Ea and just a bit farther to Astei for the week. Astei is a unique property built by it’s owners. At Astei I stayed in the main house, a restored stone farm house from the 15th century. The rest of the houses on the property are wooden, modern homes with beautiful, ecological architecture. Martxe who owns Astei and Suzanne her sweet assistant met me on my arrival and instantly welcomed me not like a hotel guest but like family visiting her home. Martxe’s generous spirit reminded me of my own Mother. I felt very much at home. This continued when I met Aran and Nadia and her friends Binat and Ainoa who assisted her. Everyone so graciously demonstrated the beauty of the Basque culture, putting importance on friends, family, food and connection.
Myself, our instructors, hosts and the other attendees quickly felt a bond as we began to learn about the art of food styling, photographing and the culture of dining. The women in this workshop came from Russia, Halifax, Dubai, Finland, Seattle, California and taiwan and Chicago. Sharing our own lives through our work and family stories added to the connection. We visited apple orchards, sheep farms, local villages, cooked, styled, photographed, ate, picked quince and lemons from below our windows and followed rabbits in the garden. We even crashed a wedding, danced and sang into the night. We ate Fresh eggs fresh figs, sardines, tuna, ham and more ham. We ate pintxos and drank beer at the beach in Laida. Actually, we ate pintxos everywhere we went. The Basque staple of small plates. Some simple ham on a baguette with peppers and olives and some completely gourmet.
One of our outings took us to meet Chef Eneko Atxa from Azurmendi, a three star Michelin restaurant in Biscay, just outside Bilbao. This was a gastronomical adventure through 17 courses and several wines. Yes, it was fantastic. My favorite course, pheasant with what looked like gilded hazelnuts but where actually shells of dark chocolate filled with foie-gras and brushed with gold. Yes. YES.
We walked the streets shopping, photographing and dining in Saint Jean De Luc and San Sebastian. We tasted local wines and were featured on local Basque television.
I came away from the Basque country and my time with Aran and Nadia desiring to simplify my life. To add more value to the truly important things like family, being present to friends, to simply be present in the moment. To celebrate and give less time to things that matter less. To commit to what I value. To value fresh foods more. To dine more and eat less, allowing time to enjoy the meal, the company and the flavor.
Thank you Aran for your sincerity, your open and generous sharing of your home, friends and talents. I am a better person for visiting your world.