Gifts From Abroad: What To Bring Your Family When You Come Home

My wife and I travel a lot, sometimes together, sometimes separately. We both have careers that require us to travel and while it can be tough to be apart, at least we have the regular ritual of seeing what gifts from abroad are popping out of each other’s suitcases!

My wife just came back from an astronomy meeting in Tokyo and brought back this haul of loot. The Japanese are masters of packaging, whether they’re being stylish and traditional or garish and modern. I wonder what a supermarket full of this stuff must look like. The panda head cookies are especially good. I’ve always wanted a bag of decapitated pandas. The T-shirt is for her, because she knows I’m fond of her “especially cuteness.”

What I forgot to include in this photo were the three bottles of sake she brought back. While I’ve always had my sake warm, she tells me it’s often served cold in Tokyo and that regulars have their own monogrammed bottle reserved for them behind the bar!

When I came back from writing my travel series about Greece, I brought her and my son lots of olives since they both love them. I also brought back some honey from Sparta. My wife adores honey and it’s a good gift to bring from abroad because it tastes different in every region. Of all the honey I’ve brought her from far-flung places, she’s liked the Spartan honey the most.

You’ll notice that we mostly bring back consumables. A great way to share the experience of your trip is to share some of the tastes. Also, we live in a European apartment (read: small) and we have too much stuff anyway.

What gifts from abroad do you like to give or receive? Tell us in the comments section!

Mars’ Cheese Castle

I was, recently, lucky enough to get an “escape weekend” from Chicago to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On the drive to Milwaukee, along Interstate 94, I found a mecca of cheese and salami. Mars’ Cheese Castle is not only an almost mandatory pit-stop for those traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee, but it is a treasure trove of tasty foods and great service. Part restaurant, bar, gourmet deli and gift shop, this is a worth the stop!

I am a big fan of wines, cheeses and various meats/salami. Mars’ Cheese Castle satiated my appetites quite nicely. An easy access location allows an easy break from the Interstate and ample parking makes it tough to say “no” to a quick stop for supplies.

Wisconsin is known for great cheese and the Castle doesn’t disappoint. Immediately, upon entrance, the deli counter is in view. Packed with great things, both local production and foreign, I was lost for about an hour just browsing. Of course you can get famous and fresh Wisconsin Cheese Curds, in many varieties. I was surprised, by the store’s humble appearance, at the selection of imported cheeses including Gruyere, blues and goat cheeses.

Their meat section contains a nice selection of sausages and various luncheon meats. Usinger’s products are prominently featured and after a few taste tests, I saw why. There are also some interesting gift ideas, such as sausages shaped like beer bottles. For something to add to your salami and cheese collection, hit their fresh bakery in the back of the store. Fresh cheese, bread, danishes, and rolls are made several times per day.

While you are busy buying foods for your picnic or to enjoy later that night, browse their gift section with some eclectic items that are uniquely “Wisconsin.” The Green Bay packers logo is on every conceivable item you could imagine. Cows are another common subject and a better collection of “Brick-a-Brack” or “Chotckies” could not be found, anywhere.

What good is all this food without a little wine or beer too wash it down? While there, we managed to get a few bottles of Von Stiehl Wine, from a surprisingly good selection considering they also had beer shaped salami. Still, it is a beer brewing state and beers, beer steins and gift boxes they have a ton of.

Mars’ Cheese Castle is easy to see from the highway and easy to get to. The food and beverage selection is impressive and you can get a dish towel with a smiling Wisconsin cow picture. What else can you ask for on a road trip through Wisconsin? Next time you are in southern Wisconsin, stop by and make sure you are hungry!

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