Elba Island in May: Unplug and Recharge

Elba Island in May: Unplug and Recharge

This weekend Mr. Italicano and I finally gave ourselves 3 days of rest. We took advantage of visiting our client in Tuscany, then continued south towards the beautiful Island of Elba. On the way we stopped at the picturesque hillside town of San Gimignano–a truly magical place. We ate lunch outside at a small restaurant on the outer walls that overlooked the Tuscan vineyards and rolling hills while listening to the beautiful music of a street musician who played songs from a violin, guitar and an antique looking instrument. We then continued a mere 2 hours south, where we arrived at Piombino, an important Tuscan port, and the departing point for Elba Island.

Did you know that Elba Island is just a 1 hour ferry ride off the coast of Tuscany? This beautiful gem is covered with green shrubs and trees as far as the eye can see, curvy roads built alongside dazzling turquoise water, exclusive white sand beaches and delicious handmade pastas and seafood dishes. In essence, it’s the perfect getaway–at least in the month of May. While June, July, and August are overpriced and overrun with tourists, May and September are perfect for a peaceful and relaxing retreat even it if means risking a day or two of unpredictable weather. Fortunately for Mr. Italicano and I, we had sunshine and warm temps during our two days on Elba Island this past weekend.

Thank goodness! All I wanted for the past two months was a weekend, even simply one day, to unwind, unplug and recharge my batteries. I needed a break from work, from technology, from my million thoughts on how to grow our small business. Lately I’ve been feeling stressed, tired and overwhelmed–to the point that I break down in tears or get angry and snap at Mr. Italicano out of frustration. (Poor Mr. Italicano.) Too much of one thing is never good. For me working two straight months of nights and weekends was too much, no matter how passionate I am about my job or how much I love it. I needed some me time. I need some us time. I needed to recharge. Elba’s charming and deserted beaches were the perfect cure.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for all of the new projects that are keeping us busy, paying our bills and allowing us to follow our dreams. I put my heart and soul into my job and feel so grateful each day that I have the opportunity to be my own boss and follow my passions. I find it hard to work a 9 to 5 job for someone else; I love being consumed by the entrepreneurial realm where I hustle and keep myself engaged as there is always something to do.  I love having a purpose and a challenge to fight for each day. And, now that Mr. Italicano and I are working together it is even more fun and satisfying… and at times more problematic to take a break.  We’ve become a tight-knit team.

Remember my post on 5 Hard Truths I Learned about Myself in 2016? #4 was about how I put my business first before my relationship with Mr. Italicano. My goal for 2017 was to become a more thoughtful wife and to stop talking about work after 8pm. Hah! If only I could say this was true:

  1. We usually work well past 8pm.
  2. Now that Mr. Italicano and I work together and can offer more services regarding food content creation for companies, he too is absorbed in growing our business. There is no “off button.” Sometimes the last words before a kiss at midnight are strategies about our plans for the following day or our first words in the morning when we wake up. If you were a fly on our wall we may bore you to death. Yet, we couldn’t be happier. 🙂 We are engaged, stimulated and our business is taking flight.

But like all things in life, there is always a need for balance. And, for us it’s 1 weekend a month to hit the work pause button, focus on us as a couple and on us as individuals. To recharge our batteries before embarking on another amazing sprint of work. In Elba, we spent lazy days in the sunshine reading a book while listening to the sound of the waves hit the shore in the background, while every once and awhile taking a stroll on the beach to dip our toes in the cold Mediterranean water. We woke up without an alarm to the sunlight that crept through the white transparent curtains in our room and enjoyed the early morning air on our balcony overlooking the still sea. We walked on dirt trails to remote beaches, listening to the birds sing and enjoying the wafts of sweet wild flowers. We ate lunch on our lawn chairs with our feet in the sand, and for dinner we dined on fresh fish and vegetables. We explored Elba Island with the top rolled down in my little 500 Fiat car and sang along to songs on the radio. We played and laughed in the sunshine and kissed under the moon. Elba is a magic place. It’s the perfect place to recharge. I hope one day you can visit.

Practical Information

Getting There:

Ferry from Piombino to Portoferrario – You can walk on as a passenger or you can take a car. You can also rent mopeds on the island if you walk on but want to explore the island or take the local buses. Ferry cost for 2 people and 1 small car = 157euro. (A little pricy, but worth it. Helps if you stay for a week.) 

Where to Stay:

Booking and Airbnb are two great resources for planning your getaway. We stayed at a clean and simple hotel called Hotel Bel Tramonto in the northwest corner of the island. Our room had a nice balcony with a view of the sea. It’s quite remote and a car is necessary. We spent 79euros a night. We didn’t stay at these hotels, but we walked past them and they were a short walking distance to the beach and looked really nice. Gallo Nero  and Hotel Cernia Botanical Garden

Where to Go:

During our short weekend we spent our time at the stunning Sant Andrea beach, Sansone Beach and La Ghaia (only recommended if you need to kill some time while you wait for your ferry at Portoferrario as it’s a short walk from the port). We didn’t stop there this trip, but absolutely go (and even stay) at Fetovaie. It’s one of my favorite beaches in Elba.

What to Eat:

More than recommend where to eat, I would reccomend what to eat. Definitely try the fried calamari/fish plate which is typical on the seaside (1 portion is perfect to split between 2 or more people as it’s quite heavy.) If you find homemade gnoochi, don’t pass it up. Search for other homemade pastas with seafood (octopus, crab, shrimp etc.) If you want a simple sandwich, try a foccaccina with anchiovies, tomatoes, basil and artichokes.

If you’ve been to Elba and have other recommendations on things to see or places to eat, please leave a comment below!

Thank you for following this blog and I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing upcoming weekend.

More Photos! I couldn’t resist.  🙂

Beet Crepes with Ricotta, Blood Oranges and Pistachios

Beet Crepes with Ricotta, Blood Oranges and Pistachios

Farro beet crepes! As you can imagine, these beautiful crepes are naturally colored with beet puree. They are the perfect dish for Mother’s Day brunch.

Farro-Beet-CrepesEver since I learned how easy it is to naturally color my food, I have been experimenting more and more in my kitchen. I love the esthetic look of colored food—Bright! Fun!—I also love packing in more nutritious vegetables to every meal. Plus, it’s easier than you think—way easier.

This post is sponsored by Poggio del Farro. I created the recipe, photos and video—which you can also find on their website along with many other delicious farro recipes. The writing and opinions are my own.

I remember the first time I made a crepe; I was in high school. My feet on a step stool and my hands reaching  in the far corners of the wooden pantry shelf (where sometimes my older brother hid the best snacks), I ran across an old 1960s box with a crepe pan designed on the front—probably a wedding present. I was intrigued. I pulled it out, dusted it off and opened it up to find a little recipe book on top of the black crepe pan. That night I made cannelloni crepes for my family. I remember they turned out absolutely terribile. I was disappointed. My dad, on the other hand, continued to eat them. “It’s just one meal, Cindy,” I remember him saying. Ahh, my dad’s simple wisdom. He was right. I was just 16. In my lifetime I would have thousands of more meals to make and whole lot of opportunities to get it right.

Farro-Beet-CrepesThe second time I made a crepe was last year, almost 20 years later (wow does that make me feel old). I was recipe testing for Smeg {affiliate link}, an Italian design appliance brand. Since their small appliances have adorable colors, I wanted to create something stylish and colorful as well. My blender spinach crepes were so good that I brought them to my friends house where we created a beautiful outdoor aperitivo (Italian style happy hour).

Farro-Beet-CrepesSince spinach worked so well, I had to try it with beets. I also used farro wheat from Poggio del Farro for these crepes. I have come quite obsessed with Poggio del Farro’s products. Farro has lower gluten content and higher amounts of protein and fiber compared to modern day grains. I use their farro grains to make soups and salads, and their flours to make crepes, pancakes, chocolate chip cookies and homemade pasta, among many other recipes. Farro is pretty much replacing all other flours in my kitchen.

Farro-Beet-CrepesThe beet crepe on its own is not so beet-y tasting, so you can top it with a myriad of fillings from sweet to savory. My favorite for this recipe is fresh crispy arugula, creamy ricotta, juicy blood oranges, crunchy pistachios all drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar (affiliate link) and sweet honey. Pure deliciousness.

Farro-Beet-Crepes

Happy Mother’s day to all and especially to my mom, an extraordinary woman whom I admire.

Beet Crepes with Ricotta, Blood Oranges and Pistachios
 
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These beautiful farro beet crepes are the perfect brunch recipe to surprise your mom on Mother's Day.
Serves: 6-8 crepes
Ingredients
  • For the Crepes:
  • 1¼ cup (300ml) milk
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 9 tablespoons(5.3oz,150g) beet puree
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter + more for cooking the crepes
  • 1 cup (130g) Poggio del Farro Organic Farro Flour*
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Toppings:
  • 1 package organic arugula
  • 18oz (500g) ricotta
  • Orange zest from 2 organic blood oranges
  • 2 organic blood oranges, peel removed and chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped pistachios
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Aged Balsamic Vinegar (Affiliate Link)
  • Honey
Instructions
  1. In a blender or a bowl, add all of the ingredients for the crepes then blend or whisk until homogenous. Chill in the refrigerator for ½ hour.
  2. Add a small knob of butter to a crepe pan or frying pan. As the butter and as it melts over medium heat, swirl the pan so that the butter covers the bottom. Pour in ½ cup of the crepe and quickly swirl the pan so that it distributes the liquid evenly. Cook for 1-3 minutes then flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Repeat for the rest of the crepes. Keep the crepes warm by putting them in the oven at a low temperature.
  3. Fill each crepe with some ricotta, arugula, blood orange pieces & zest and pistachios. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar and honey.
Notes
Batter should be chilled in the refrigerator for ½ hour before using.

*If you are not able to find farro flour you can replace with other flour.

 

 

Gluten-Free Mini Blueberry Muffins  

Gluten-Free Mini Blueberry Muffins  

Yes! Gluten-free mini blueberry muffins that actually taste amazing!

Gluten-Free-Mini-Blueberry-MuffinsGuys, you are going to love these. Whether or not you follow a gluten-free diet or you just want to mix up your diet with other healthy flour substitutes, these gluten-free mini blueberry muffins are so delicious that you will be too busy having a second one to even think about “normal” muffins.

What I love about these muffins is that they are made with almond meal (just throw raw almonds in your blender or food processor and blend until it because a crumbly flour.) Almonds— and all nuts in general—are one of my favorite go-to snacks. Why? Just a handful of almonds give me a boost of energy throughout the day and they are full of healthy fats, fiber, protein and all sorts of other nutritional benefits. I always bring them with me when I go hiking or on road trips. And, I love topping almonds in my salads or making almond butter to swirl in my smoothie or grain bowls.

When I was a kid, my mom always had a wooden bowl full of nuts. Not the already shelled kind that I usually have in my cupboards, but a bowlful of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and Brazilian nuts to actually crack. Surely you’ve seen the shells of walnuts, but have you ever seen the shell of an almond? With its tan oval shape and tiny little holes, it looks like its made out of cork. Or, how about a hazelnut shell? It looks like an acorn missing its little top. Then there is the peculiar Brazilian nut shell with its brown rugged surface that seems like a chunk  of washed up wood that you’d find at the beach. All so distinctive and unique, all so delicious too.

Gluten-Free Mini Blueberry Muffins
 
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These gluten-free mini blueberry muffins are made with almond meal and are a great breakfast or snack filled with a good source of protein and fiber.
Serves: 24 mini muffins
Ingredients
  • 3 cups (330g) cups almond meal
  • ¼ (1g) tsp salt
  • ½ tsp (3g) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (2g) cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon (12g) chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp (45g) honey
  • ¼ cup (50g) melted coconut oil
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • 3 organic eggs
  • 1 cup (150g) fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter or spray a mini muffin pan.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the whisk attachment, add the following: almond meal, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and chia seeds. Mix on speed 4 for 10 seconds.
  3. In a separate bowl mix together: honey, coconut oil, almond milk and eggs.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of the stand mixer and whisk on speed 4 until just combined, about 10 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and stir in the blueberries with a spatula.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the raw cane sugar and cinnamon.
  6. Fill the greased muffin cups until full. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Store in an air tight container for up to 5 days or freeze in an airtight container for up to 2-3 months.

Farro Beet Soup with Greek Yogurt, Pistachios & Orange Zest

Farro Beet Soup with Greek Yogurt, Pistachios & Orange Zest

I’m obsessed with this farro beet soup with Greek yogurt, pistachios and orange zest. Mr. Italicano is too. He even forgot that that he doesn’t like beets!

This post is sponsored by Poggio del Farro. I created the recipe, photos and video—which you can also find on their website along with many other delicious farro recipes. The writing and opinions are my own.

Really, all food can be great (or bad)—it just comes down to how you prepare the dish. Just take microwaved mushy asparagus vs. melt-in-your-mouth-shaved asparagus.  The first is seriously inedible (actually, flat out gross) the second I can down in a second. I often top my frittata with shaved asparagus or serve it with delicious fresh fish.   You can also use these green veggie curls in place of fettuccine noodles like Lindsey Ostrom does on her blog, Pinch of Yum. Watch out world,  shaved asparagus is going to be the new avocado to your toast.

Now that we got my shaved asparagus obsession out of the way, let’s get back to this amazing farro beet soup. The idea for this recipe came from Maria Speck’s lovely Simple Ancient Grain Book. She makes a bright beet soup with buckwheat and spicy horseradish, while I created mine to incorporate the irresistible flavors of the Mediterranean: a dollop of creamy Greek yogurt, nutty farro from Tuscany and pistachios and orange zest that are symbols of Sicily.

Farro is a staple in my vegetarian/pescatarian lifestyle. It’s a grain that  is high in protein, fiber and antioxidants—you can read more about the nutritional benefits here — and I love it’s subtle nutty taste and firm texture. It’s so adaptable and can be transformed into a healthy salad, homemade pasta, easy crepes, and more.

I get my farro from Poggio del Farro, a family owned company in Tuscany. They are truly “farro specialists.” The passion that they put into their work to make their products made me fall in love with this grain. When I met the owner Federico for the first time I listened as he explained that this business adventure was an act of love for his family and keeping the tradition of cultivating farro alive (many fellow farmers were switching to grains that were easier to cultivate). I’ve been substituting farro for modern refined flours more and more as the reading I’ve done shows that it is a better choice for your health. And, although I don’t have problems with gluten, I like that farro has a different kind of gluten structure than modern grains. In fact, many people with gluten sensibilities (not celiacs disease) find that they can eat this grain without adverse effects. I want to limit health problems in the future by being attentive of what I’m eating today!

Farro Beet Soup with Greek Yogurt, Pistachios & Orange Zest
 
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This vibrant and healthy farro beet soup with Greek yogurt, pistachios and orange zest incorporates the irresistible flavors of the Mediterranean.
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • For the beet soup:
  • 1 cup (200g) Dehusked Organic Farro
  • 3 cups (700ml) water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ red onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 16oz (450g) cooked beets
  • 2-3 cups cold vegetable broth
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • For the topping:
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
  • Orange zest
Instructions
  1. Add the farro and water to a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil then add the salt and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
  2. In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the red onion and salt; cook until the onions are translucent, but not browned. Now add the garlic and honey and cook for another minute. Remove from heat.
  3. In a blender, add: the onion/garlic mixture, beets, 1 cup vegetable broth. Blend until smooth.
  4. Pour the contents of the blender into the medium sized pot and bring to a simmer.
  5. Now that the farro is ready, drain and add to the pot with the beet soup. Add more vegetable broth to arrive at a soup-like consistency. Bring to a simmer on medium heat until warm. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper--the salt really makes the flavor come out. Ladle into bowls. Top with a spoonful of Greek yogurt, chives, pistachios and orange zest. Buon appetito!

This post was sponsored by Poggio del Farro and their delicious farro grains!   I created the recipe, photos and video—which you can also find on their website along with many other delicious farro recipes. The writing and opinions are my own.

Homemade Matcha Pasta with Spinach, Lemons and Zucchini

Homemade Matcha Pasta with Spinach, Lemons and Zucchini

Easter is a week away! What better way to celebrate than to serve up a beautiful green pasta dish to your family and friends. This homemade matcha pasta with spinach, lemons and zucchini is a great vegetarian meal and, if you want to add some protein, you can top with grilled shrimp. Either way, it’s delicious.

In Italy, Easter is celebrated with a 3-hour family lunch, where laughter is abundant, hand gestures are inevitable, wine is always flowing and there is enough food on the table to feed a small army.  I don’t eat breakfast before this festive meal, otherwise I wouldn’t make it past the first course, which sometimes is still hard to do. Portions in Italy are not small, by the way.

Just to give you an idea, here is the menu for Sunday’s Easter lunch that my mother-in-law Patrizia is hosting. It’s also her birthday. Buon Compleanno :: Happy Birthday, Patrizia!

Easter Menu

Various appetizers

Ricotta & Asparagus Cannelloni

Mushroom Tortelli with Castellano Cheese and Tartufo Butter

Roasted Lamb with Parsley and Lemon Sauce

Cooked Spinach

Roasted Potatoes

Raw Vegetables with Olive Oil, Lemon and Salt

Napoleon dessert

Colomba

Ricotta Crostata

Fresh Fruit

Marsala Aged for 35 years

Passito

Caffè

The Easter bunny does not exist in the small country town where I live in the region of Emilia-Romagna.  There are no pastel weaved baskets filled with chocolates and candies to find when you wake in the morning, nor are there Easter egg hunts at the local park.  When I first started living here, I momentarily felt kind of sorry for Italian children, but then again, they have something we Americans don’t: chocolate eggs filled with surprises.

Now you may be skeptical, I mean, in America, chocolate eggs are the norm. But, these aren’t just any chocolate eggs. These oval delicacies are both fun and melt-in-your-mouth-delicious. They come in all different sizes: from eggs the size of your palms to the size of your head to the size of an adult body. The surprises are relative to the size and cost of the egg: from small little plastic figurines, to dolls and cars to giant stuffed animals (and much more).

How to open one of these chocolate eggs: Remove the shiny wrapper, admire the chocolate that you are going to shortly devour, and smash the chocolate egg against the table to reveal a plastic egg. Inside you’ll find your surprise. Outside you have all of the chocolate pieces to eat and share. Or not. 🙂

Traditional American Easter desserts are filled with colored dyes. How else would you color your cakes and frosting pastel green, yellow and pink? Believe it or not, there are so many easy ways! I used natural colorings for my pasta recipes: matcha and spinach for green, turmeric for yellow and beet puree for pink. You can also use these natural colors for your baked goods.

Here’s the thing: synthetic dyes are bad for adults and children. According to Eating Well, “Research has also associated food dyes with problems in children including allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability and aggressiveness.”

I was actually quite tentative to use real ingredients to color my food, I mean, wouldn’t it taste weird? The surprising answer is no. Usually the amount that you add to your recipe is so minimal that you can’t even detect what ingredient it is. For instance, in this homemade matcha pasta you can’t taste the flavor of the green tea but you get all of the antioxidants and heath benefits. Is matcha tea good for kids, you ask? I found this article quite interesting.

I had a lot of fun developing this recipe; it was also quite a challenge. It took me about three tries to get the pasta the way I wanted it, and about 8 tries to find the “perfect sauce” (see my video on youtube.) I am very happy with the result and the responses during the 2 week cooking show tour in America with Smeg USA. Over the course of 17 cooking shows and demos in Chicago and New York City, I showed consumers how to make this pasta dough in Smeg’s beautiful stand mixer , and how to make the raw spinach lemon sauce in their vintage style blender.

I used their vegetable attachment to cut matchstick pieces of zucchini in seconds. Not only was it fun, but I absolutely love showing people how to eat healthy with simple recipes. It’s truly easy when you have the right kitchen tools.

Homemade Matcha Pasta with Spinach, Lemons and Zucchini
 
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This homemade matcha pasta with spinach, lemons and zucchini is a great vegetarian dish perfect for Easter and the arrival of spring. It's naturally colored and fresh in flavor. Enjoy!
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • For the dough for spaghetti:
  • 2½ cups + 2 tablespoons (400g) semola
  • 1⅛ cup (230g) water
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 2 tablespoons (10g) matcha powder
  • For the dough for fettuccine or tagliolini:
  • 3 cups (14oz, 400g) farro flour
  • 4 extra large organic eggs
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons (10g) organic matcha
  • For the sauce:
  • 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • ½ onion, skin removed and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, skin removed and finely chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 6 oz (180g) organic baby spinach
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • For the topping:
  • 2 zucchini, cut into matchstick pieces
  • 2-3 lemons
  • Chives
Instructions
  1. For the dough:
  2. Attach the dough hook to the Smeg stand mixer and add all of the ingredients for either the spaghetti dough or the fettuccine/tagliolini dough. Mix on speed 1 for 3-5 minutes until the mixture comes together as a ball, adding a spoonful of water at a time if the texture is crumbly or extra flour if the dough is sticky.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Attach the pasta roller accessory to the stand mixer. Divide the dough into 6 pieces, press them into flat rectangles and flour each side. Pass one of the pieces through the machine on speed 1 on no.0. Fold the ends towards each other and pass it through again. Now turn it to no.1 and pass it through three times. Let the sheets dry for 20 minutes or until they are no longer moist but not too dry where they break. Now proceed with one of the following:
  4. For Spaghetti:
  5. Attach the spaghetti attachment and pass each sheet through on speed 1. Repeat. Hang the spaghetti on a pasta rack or broom handle lined with a clean cloth and let dry completely before cooking.  Cook time: 2-4 minutes in boiling salted water.
  6. For Fettuccine & Tagliolini:
  7. Attach the fettuccine or tagliolini accessory and run one sheet through on speed 1. Repeat. Pasta can be used immediately. Cook time: 2-4 minutes (fettuccine) or 1-2 minutes (tagliolini) in boiling salted water.
  8. For the sauce:
  9. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until translucent, but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  10. Add this mixture to a blender followed by 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, water, lemon juice, baby spinach and salt. Blend until smooth, adding more salt or lemon to taste.
  11. To plate:
  12. Cook the pasta according to the directions above. Add the sauce back to the skillet. When the pasta is done add it to the skillet along with a few spoonfuls of cooking water. Stir to distribute the sauce evenly and heat over medium heat for 30 seconds. Divide into 4-6 plates, and top with zucchini, chives and ½ lemon zest for each plate. Buon appetito!

This post is sponsored by Smeg. I only work with companies whose products I use and love.