Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Northern Iowa Chronicles: The Heartland in Winter

Babs and I will be going to Iowa in about a week to visit her family. It's December and there are 10 inches of snow on the ground in North Central Iowa. It's cold. It's white. It's flat. The Heartland in Winter.

Over the last 24 years, Babs and I have spent a lot of December time in Northern Iowa. There is Christmas and there is her father's birthday. The trouble with Christmas in Northern Iowa is that the locale is about 2 hours drive directly south of Minneapolis, about 10 minutes drive from the Minnesota border, about 20 minutes drive to the home of Spam. That means you're seriously in the Northland there and it snows a lot in late December.

Babs and I moved to Chicago in late 1985 and shortly thereafter began making holiday excursions to the Heartland in Winter. On more than one occasion it snowed so much after we got there that we had to spend some extra days until the snow plows could make the roads passable. One year we decided to avoid the snowed in experience on the roads by flying into Rochester, Minnesota about 45 minutes away from the Heartland in Winter. Rochester, Minnesota motto: "We're not just about the Mayo Clinic. Honest we aren't."

Anyway, Rochester, Minnesota (Mayoville) has an airport with one runway long enough to serve big jets. As per usual it snowed massive amounts while we were visiting the relatives and guess what? That one runway gets shut down, and we were snowed in for a couple of extra days. Two days later we called the airport and they said they thought they would have the runway in good enough shape to fly out later that day. We all hopped in the car and headed down the Interstate, saying our good-byes and readying ourselves for the trip home. Got to the airport and they still hadn't gotten the runway cleared quite yet. Hung around and hung around, and finally American Airlines put everyone on a bus and drove us to Minneapolis where there were bunches of cleared runways and flights to Chicago.

Going to the Heartland in Winter. Gonna get snowed in. Get used to it. Doesn't matter how you arrive. Nevertheless, the Heartland in Winter can be fun. My father-in-law is currently 92 and he has birthdays in December, some of which are memorable. On his 80th birthday we made the excursion in early December, using that trip as an excuse to go somewhere exotic on vacation at Christmas.

For the 80th birthday we got the entire family together and headed off to Rochester, Minnesota (We're not just about the Mayo Clinic. Honest we aren't.) to a restaurant that has autographed photos of lots of famous people on the walls. Apparently, the rich and famous have to have some place to eat when they come to Mayo City. Anyway, we had a lovely lunch and afterwards we were thinking of a celebratory cocktail.

The father-in-law got to thinking and he summoned the waitress over. "You know we used to have these drinks and I'm not quite sure what went in them, but they had whipped cream and a filbert on the top." At this point he added, "We just always called them Angel Tits. They were good. Do you think anyone here knows how to make those?"

The waitress smiled and said, "I'll check." She came back and said, "The bartender knows how to do it. We can fix you up."

Father-in-law grinned from ear to ear and with a grand gesture encompassing the table full of relatives said "Angel tits all around." Turns out they were basically a variation on Kahlua and Cream. The mound of white whipped cream with a filbert strategically placed gave the drink its name. Nevertheless, there were Angel Tits all around and they were enjoyed by one and all.

It strikes me that this is a fitting way to celebrate the Heartland in Winter, or a great many other places for that matter. That is such a nice sentiment to wish for everyone you know, to let them know you have warm, fuzzy feelings for them and you'd like to share them in hopes that they warm, fuzzy you right back. Forget "Merry Christmas." Forget "Happy Holidays." For me the appropriate seasonal greeting is "Angel Tits all around."


  1. FYI-- They were named thus because of the philbert (sp?) nut placed strategically on top of the creamy white cocktail! and I've never seen my father blush :)

  2. Okay, I will admit your father never ever blushes, no matter what. Anyway, "Angel tits all around toots."

  3. Editorial comments taken and corrections made Babs.

  4. Great story - thanks!
    Sounds like a delicious drink!

    It's busy this time of year and I have not been by your blog for a visit in a while, so I have been reading and catching up on the last several entries. All very thoughtful and interesting.

    As a lifelong southerner, it is always hard for me to imagine living with all the snow they have to live with in places like Minnesota and Northern Iowa. It seems magical, but at the same time, requiring very sturdy and capable folks. A few flurries send Georgians off to the grocery store to stock up - it may mean we have to stay put for a couple of days, and we must be sure we have sufficient supplies. ha
    I'll think of you and Babs when I see the holiday weather reports of all the snow up there. Enjoy your trip, stay warm and safe, and I hope you get your fill of Angel Tits!

  5. Just a word, Lori. I grew up in Central Arkansas. Winter means 35-45 and raining a lot. Occasional snow. I had really awful sinus difficulties as a kid. Make it 20-30 and snowing instead and my sinus difficulties improve greatly. I love the snow for a while and then it gets tedious and you always look forward to an early spring vacation to someplace really warm. Spent two years on the island of Guam, and while it wasn't exactly tropical paradise, going to the beach in January is alright. Think I'll retire someplace warm and just visit the snow when I want to.