A Not So Secret Recipe for Lisbon’s Pastel de Nata

The Portuguese love their pastries.  There are pastelarias on every street, and they are filled with people day and night stopping in for a sugar fix.  The pastry that Lisbon may best be known for is the Pastel de Nata, a two-bite confection of rich, velvety, crème brulee-like custard baked into a light, crispy pastry shell.  The iconic egg tart is so popular that there is a competition every year to determine who makes the best pasteis de nata in the city.

The original recipe is believed to date back prior to the 18th Century when the pastries were made by the monks at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Belem,  just outside Lisbon.  At the time, the monastery used a lot of egg whites to starch the holy robes.  In order to not waste the yolks, they were in turn used to make cakes and pastries.  The Liberal Revolution of 1820 threatened to close many monasteries in Portugal.  So the monks began selling their pastries to support their order. When the monastery was closed in 1834, the monks sold their recipe to a sugar refinery that opened a bakery nearby.  The Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem is still selling the pastries today.  But their recipe is a closely guarded secret.  Our tour guide Marcos from We Hate Tourism Tours told us that the original recipe has been handed down from generation to generation, that only three people know the secret recipe, and they aren’t permitted to travel together!


Chasing the Northern Lights

Chasing the Northern Lights

There are a lot of amazing photos and videos of the Aurora Borealis, but nothing prepares you for the awe of actually seeing the spectacle for yourself.   From November to March, you have a good chance to see the Northern Lights in destinations that are closest to the North Pole.  After much research, we chose Iceland as our destination to chase the Northern Lights.

The Aurora is dazzling and mystifying.  It is elusive and unpredictable.  But if you are lucky enough to see it, it is an unforgettable experience.


  • Dress for the cold – multiple layers will help keep you warm
  • Don’t forget your face – be sure to wear a scarf, ski mask, or balaclava along with a hat
  • Hand warmers and foot warmers – these bits will get cold first
  • If you wear contact lenses, you may want to wear your glasses. Contact lenses can get dry in the cold and cloud up – you don’t want anything hindering your view
  • Get out of the city – light pollution from buildings and street lamps can make it more difficult to see the Aurora
  • Check the forecast for Aurora predictions and cloud cover. Both conditions need to be optimal for your best chance of viewing.  This site is a good resource: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/
  • Don’t expect to capture photos with your camera phone. You can get some images with a basic point and shoot camera, but you really want a good camera on a tripod to capture the lights
  • Go with a professional photographer and guide. Not only do they know when and where to go, they will also be sure to capture what you see. The guys at Arctic Shots (http://www.arcticshots.is) are amazing photographers, super knowledgeable, and a lot of fun to hang out with!
  • Manage your expectations. The lights are elusive and unpredictable.  No one can guarantee if or when you will see the lights, even with the best forecasts and planning.  Just be hopeful and enjoy the adventure!
Tasting Olive Oil in Tuscany Entry

Tasting Olive Oil in Tuscany

Olive oil is a part of nearly every meal in Italy, and that is no surprise because Italy is one of the top olive oil producers in the world.  When we were planning our trip to Tuscany near the fall harvest, we knew that it would be a great opportunity to learn about olive oil at the source.  Our research led us to discover Villa Campestri, (http://www.villacampestri.com/en/) a luxury olive oil resort and farm just north of Florence.

Century-old olive trees ring the property, which is perched high on a hill giving you a spectacular view of the Mugello Valley below.  At the center of the property is the Renaissance Villa, which dates back to the Thirteenth Century.  The Villa has accommodations, a restaurant, and an oleateca where you can learn about the different flavors and characteristics of olive oil.

We scheduled our olive oil tasting for late afternoon.  Our guide, Gemma, is an agronomist and olive oil sommelier.  She and her family have operated Villa Campestri for more than a quarter century.  We started in the grove, where Gemma invited us to pick an olive from the tree, peel the skin, and smell it.