Balance is More Than a Buzzword

Balance is More Than a Buzzword

This week’s post is written by Leanne Valenti, chef and owner of Bento Picnic, an Austin-based business that creates lunch boxes and party platters using Japanese menu design, local ingredients, and original recipes.
When I tried my first Pilates class in 2014 I wasn’t looking for the secret to lasting health and vitality.

I signed up for a session on a whim after hearing about the method from friends who were fans, simply hoping for a good workout and perhaps a little relief from the pains that are typical for someone in a physically-demanding job like mine (looking at you, low back pain). Armed with my practical expectations, I was surprised to leave the session with so much more.

​From that very first class I began to feel a deeper awareness of my body and mind, as if the culmination of movement and breath and concentration had brought them into better balance from the inside out. I’d finally been let in on the secret that Pilates enthusiasts have known for years: that balanced body fitness is one of the most important factors in determining our overall health, happiness, and longevity.

A light bulb moment like that is thrilling for anyone, but it felt especially relevant to me, a woman who for the last several years had taken on a quest to understand the concept of balance in a different realm: food and cooking.

I began my career in cooking because I have an insatiable curiosity for culinary traditions that lead to good health. After earning my culinary degree at the Natural Epicurean Academy in Austin, I immediately ventured to Japan, a mecca for culinary artisanry and remarkably healthy living. I set up a homestay in Izu where I spent months helping in the family bakery, cooking with my host mom, and foraging for shiitake, bamboo shoots and yomogi.

​Through my daily lessons and experiences I went on a journey from one light bulb moment to the next as I learned to identify and appreciate all the different elements of Japanese cuisine. As a first time visitor, it was thrilling to soak in each meal with all five senses, and my fresh perspective also allowed me to see ingredients and preparations in a totally new way. Everything was beautiful and delicious, but the thing that struck me the most was the deep sense of satisfaction I felt after each meal. Even something as simple as ekiben, a boxed lunch sold at train stations, was something to truly savor. I was hooked.

As I dug even deeper into the history and culture of Japanese cuisine I learned something intriguing – the feeling of comfort and bliss we experience when our body is in perfect balance is the same feeling of delight and fulfillment that comes from eating a meal based on the Japanese principle of Washoku (和食).

​Washoku is the term for Japanese menu design that uses five colors, five tastes, and five elements in every meal. The result is quite magical. Even the healthiest ingredients are incredibly enjoyable and strikingly satisfying when they are prepared as part of a complete symphony of flavor, texture and color.

Here’s how it works
​- All five flavors hit your palate (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent), which is wonderfully satisfying on a physiological level so there’s no desire to overindulge. 

 – All the colors (red, yellow, green, white, black) represent a wide variety of nutrients to deliver your daily fill of nutrition from whole foods.
 – All the elements (earth, tree, water, fire, metal) are used to transform ingredients by using a variety of cooking methods (i.e. pickled, raw, water-based, open flame, dry heat), which results in a rich depth of textures, flavors and deliciousness.

​After I came back to Austin, the memory of what I experienced kept pumping through my brain. I knew I wanted to find a way to deliver health and joy through food, so I created my company Bento Picnic. In
2015 I began catering healthy lunches to feed and fuel Austin’s best businesses, and my team and I are thrilled to announce we’ve just launched on-demand delivery service that serves homes and offices five days a week!

​For me, the familiar tales of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs ring true, but I firmly believe that my efforts to seek health through balance has helped me get to this point with just as much passion and almost as much sanity as I had when I started on this journey. Creating balanced meals has become instinctual, and yes, I still incorporate the principles I learned in Pilates to my work every single day. I practice Pilates posture and breathing techniques in the kitchen, so I’m able to spend a whole day on my feet without putting undue stress on my low back and I still have plenty of energy left at the end of the day. I feel full rather than drained, and my body has that hummm of joy and vitality. Imagine that.

I invite you enjoy this super easy + outrageously delicious roasted broccoli recipe. It’s one of my favorites for demonstrating how seasoning anything with all five tastes can turn it into a party in your mouth, even broccoli! I’ll often roast off a whole bunch keep my fridge stocked so that when I come home hungry from a workout, I’ll have something wholesomely binge-worthy on hand. 
Bento Picnic will be catering the RedBird360 Launch party on November 5, 2016. We look forward to seeing you there! If you’d like to try one of our bento boxes or lunch bowls before the party, you can get 10% off your first delivery when you order on our website and use the code REDBIRD at checkout. If you have questions about Bento Picnic’s services or the recipe, please feel free to email me at leanne@bentopicnic.com
Enjoy a fun recipe from Leanne

Binge-Worthy Roasted Broccoli

2 heads broccoli
4 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
½ cup cilantro stems, chopped
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oil (neutral, i.e. safflower, grape seed)
1 Tbsp water
1 lime, juiced

Preheat oven to 425F.
Chop broccoli crown into florets. 
Put garlic, cilantro stems, black pepper, soy sauce, oil and water in a blender and pulse to combine, adding a bit of extra water to loosen if needed. 
In a bowl, combine broccoli with marinade and toss until coated evenly.
On a parchment lined sheet pan, spread out broccoli and roast at 425 for 15 minutes.
Squeeze lime juice on roasted broccoli to serve.