With the Iowa Caucus less than a week away it got me reminiscing about our last trip to the Heartland. Miles, Fefe, and I headed to the Iowa at the end of the summer to celebrate Grandma’s 86th birthday.
When people hear Iowa I think they assume we’re going to a farm. We actually stay in a city — Davenport, part of the Quad Cities (QC). The family house we stay at overlooks the Mississippi river. There is a working rail road track not too far and you can hear the chug-a-chug of the trains as they work their way alongside the mighty Mississippi. The Mississippi runs east to west in the QC, and barges pass often along with occasional ornate paddlewheel riverboats — one can almost hear Showboat’s “Ol’ Man River” whispering from the water.
The family house has an interesting history. It was built by a sea captain well over a century ago and he insisted on having a look-out above the front door to see the ships come in. It not only overlooks the Mississippi River but also the Rock Island Arsenal. Two of the more recent owners of the house were the Blooms. John and Isabelle Bloom were local artists that became quite famous regionally. They studied under Grant Wood around the time Wood’s American Gothic became a sensation — this fact will become one of the inspirations for Grandma’s 86th birthday party.
Iowa’s slogan is: Fields of Opportunities! And for me those “opportunities” are with parties — specifically Gram’s Birthday Parties!
I had the Family House in Iowa renovated several years back. It now possesses a wonderful party flow with an open floor plan and a new kitchen as well as a veranda that is the full width of the house. And let’s not forget one of the house’s best features is that it overlooks the Mighty Mississippi — it’s truly a treat to entertain there.
When I was a young child weenie roasts were a big deal. Sadly, somehow the family got away from them over the years. But I always remembered the fun. Roasting hotdogs over the fire. Laughter. Smiles. Good simple food. When I had possession of the family house I was determined to bring back the weenie roast. And I did.
It seems like every family party I threw was a weenie roast. Even Grandma’s 80th birthday party had a lovely ladies lunch with everyone in hats with beautiful linens and Versace china and at night . . . a weenie roast with the family. Weenie roasts are such a simple party to throw — provided you already have the fire pit. And it brings everyone together. I much prefer it to grilling for large groups. It’s laid-back and interactive. Plus the kids love making s’mores for dessert.
All that said about my love of the weenie roast, we decided to throw a different type of birthday party for Gram this year. My friend Tanya has become quite the famous DIYer, DIY Tanya, founding several DIY Facebook groups with thousands of followers — including me. And she inspired me to be a bit of a DIYer myself. I always get a kick out of seeing what so many of these talented ladies do. Many of the members paint, craft, or sow. And while I am not particularly gifted in those areas I can throw a party. So with some DIY Ladies that Upcycle & Recycle on a Budget inspiration coupled with Pinterest, the ideas were flowing.
“Farm Days” in the East Village . . .
Given that it was “Farm Days” in the East Village I couldn’t think of a better theme — there were actually tractors that are driving by the house over Grandma’s Birthday weekend. It was too perfect. The house is just outside of the Village of East Davenport which has several taverns, restaurants, and shoppes — it’s only a few blocks but what I consider to be the “Old Town” of the Quad Cities. There is even a yacht club, the Lindsay Park Yacht Club, that has reciprocity to the Old Dominion Boat Club! All this in walking distance from the house.
The “Farm” theme was perfect! We styled the party that way, and guests could even walk down to “Farm Days” in the East Village if they wanted to experience that as well. Once we settled on the theme as a family, I instantly thought of red and white check, bandannas for napkins, mason jars for drinks, a barrel of hey (I learned from my cousin Patty, a farmer’s wife, that what we really wanted was straw), and an American Gothic photo booth. Then we took to Pinterest for some more inspiration. Grandma’s other granddaugher, Meghan Rose, of the millennial generation was on Pinterest gathering several ideas for the family to execute. And what a great way to show Gram how much you love and appreciate her then coming together as a family to throw a party.
Party Prep . . .
As any hostess knows a party can take a long time to plan. Decorations. And food. And guest lists. And entertainment. And the shopping. For weeks, while most of us were at work my mom, Sharon, and Meghan Rose hit all the stores finding every essential to make Gram’s day extra special. They constantly kept us in the loop sending iMessages with photos and asking our opinions. It was a fun family effort that all came together once we got to the heartland.
The Food . . .
The food was delicious and adorable! Food doesn’t have to be fancy to be enjoyed by your guests. Our menu was simple and fun! Fried Chicken, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Baked Beens, Macaroni & Cheese, and Potato Salad with Hardboiled Eggs — we served them on small silver baking trays lined with blue and white parchment paper and our bandanna roll-ups were labeled pitchforks and shovels. Our hors d’oeuvres included cheese and crackers displayed in an egg tray as well as pigs in a blanket. We also had Chex Mix and Pretzel Sticks that were labeled Hay and Chicken Feed. Also, given that all of us “kids” were coming from Virginia and Grosse Pointe, Michigan we opted to buy many of the items and tweak them versus making everything from scratch — a timesaver when entertaining.
The Drinks . . .
Now on to the drinks. What a better way to wash down all the yummies than with Belgian Beer served in mason jars. My parents, Miles, and I had recently gone to Brugge, where Gram’s family is from, so we were still on a bit of a Belgian Beer kick. The family also sewed on farm themed buttons to the cocktail napkins to add a special touch. We also served water and Diet Pepsi — or Pop as it is known in the midwest.
The Cake . . .
What’s a birthday party without a cake? And what a special farm themed cake it was! I really felt like it was too pretty to eat. Our cousin, Robin Connor-Hunt, owns Le Cake in Davenport and stepped-up to bake a Farm themed cake for Loretta (a.k.a. Grandma). Delicious and adorable! Robin does outstanding work — she told me she knows when a cake is done by the smell and doesn’t use a timer. She’s truly gifted between the delicious taste and her ability to so artistically decorate her creations!
The Photographs . . .
It probably comes as no surprise that we like photos in our family. I even have a job that depends on photos. But, I guess when it comes to family, photos seem extra special. Just like a hostess plans the food, drinks, and entertainment she also needs to plan the photographs. Otherwise the party goes by and people start to leave and you didn’t get those shots you wanted — I like to try to get posed photos before dessert is served.
By the hay and cornstalk . . .
Enjoying the party . . .
A nod to our American Gothic roots . . .
I always think a photo booth or a posed photos like this are so much fun! We had the apron made and added a cameo. The overalls just went in front all the fellas with a string over the neck and a plain black sportcoat topped it off. Everyone had a blast posing. A party is a culmination of a lot of little things. And it’s a ton of work. So it’s nice to have memories and photos to show for it!
Visiting the Quad Cities? Check out these Eats & Drinks:
- Harris Pizza, Rock Island, Illinois and other locations -> It says at the door it’s the “Finest Pizza in the World” — and it sure is darn good. We recommend the taco pizza as well as sausage and pepperoni. Outstanding. I’m craving it right now! You can eat in and watch them make pizzas or carry it out.
- Made-Rite, Moline, Illinois and other locations -> Remember the television show Roseanne? On the show they opened up the loose meet sandwich shop called the Lunch Box based off of a restaurant in Moline, Illinois — that place is the Made Rite. It’s real. And it’s delicious. Try the Made Rite sandwich with pickle and mustard — they serve it with a spoon so you can gather up the loose meet that falls out.
- Machine Shed, Davenport, Iowa -> A farm theme that serves consistentely delicious food. We recommend the pot roast for dinner! They also provide family style starters with your dinner — one of the starters is a creamy salty cottage cheese that I’ve only ever gotten in the midwest. It’s also a great place for breakfast. The cinnamon rolls are the biggest I’ve ever seen and if you say “I love eggs” with your egg order they give you an extra one.
- Mulkey’s, Rock Island, Illinois -> Good old-fashioned comfort food at very reasonable prices. Tastes like something you’d have at home in the heartland. The Henny Penny Chicken is a specialty, and actually was one of the items we served at the birthday party. Also, get there early because the daily specials sell out fast.
- 11th Street Precinct, Davenport, Iowa -> A restaurant and bar located in the East Village. They have a pork tenderloin sandwich that is huge and well known for decades among locals. Yummy.
- Rhythm City Cassino, Davenport, Iowa -> Think of a Vegas buffet on a riverboat on the Mississippi. The boat doesn’t actually go out, so you can come and go as you please. The foods pretty tasty. And there is Mississippi Stud poker upstairs which Miles loved! They also have other table games and slots.
- Lindsay Park Yacht Club, Davenport, Iowa -> A nice place overlooking the Mississippi River with reasonable drinks and a small menu. If you have a reciprocal membership from somewhere we recommend you check it out.
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