Destination Heartland: A Guide to Discovering the Midwest’s Remarkable Past

          “I wanted to dispel the myth that the Midwest is boring,” Cynthia Clampitt tells me when I ask about the inspiration for writing Destination Heartland: A Guide to Discovering the Midwest’s Remarkable Past (University of Illinois Press), her book about the many fascinating places to visit in the stretch of our country from the Dakotas to Ohio.

         

I’m happy to report that Clampitt’s goal was a success. Her book takes us to both well-known and out-of-the-way destinations that offer a historic perspective and—in some cases—a culinary delight. Think of it as an in-depth historical travel guide and choose from a plethora of places to read about and/or visit covered in her book. I certainly have a few I now want to explore. These include the Amana Colonies in Iowa which started off as a religious society that escaped religious persecution in Germany. But though it’s rooted in the past with many places to visit such as the High Amana General Store and Zuber’s Homestead Hotel which was built in 1862) it’s also one that embraced technology producing, writes Clampitt, “many high-end electronic products, including everything from microwave ovens to washing machines.”

         

Strictly old-fashioned though is the recipe Clampitt shares for pickled ham that was given to her the Ronneberg Restaurant which opened more than 70 years ago in Amana. Pickled ham, one of the specialties of the area, can also be purchased in jars at the Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse that dates back to 1855.

          Clampitt, a Chicago-based food historian and travel writer who has also authored other books including Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland, who says she also wants to keep these icons of the past from disappearing by creating an interest to visit them, learned to appreciate iconic Midwestern destinations when young and visiting places with her family. That developed a long-time fascination that endures to this day.

          This love of exploration isn’t confined to just the Midwest. Clampitt has visited thirty-seven countries on six continents.

          “When I’m not traveling, I’m thinking of traveling,” she says, adding that she does a lot of research in preparation as well.

          Indeed, since the publication of her book, she has racked up more destinations so here’s hope for  a sequel to her book. No matter what, Clampitt will keep traveling and she invites others to do so as well.

          “There are so many places in the Midwest to visit that are remarkable, I don’t want them to vanish,” says Clampitt. “I hope people get in their cars and go visit.”

Salamati: Hamed’s Persian Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Iran to the Other Side of the World

for the adventuresome home chef, Allahyari offers a world of flavors.”

In mortal danger for his beliefs, Hamed Allahyari and his pregnant girlfriend fled their homeland of Iran, first spending two months in Indonesia and then, after grueling hours long by truck over badly paved back roads and then days crammed aboard a boat another five months on Christmas Island before being granted asylum by the Australian government. Once there, life remained extremely difficult for the young couple who were now parents of two young children, and though Allahyari had been a chef and restauranteur in Iran, no one was interested—or so it seemed—in Persian cuisine.

Unable to find work Allahyari began volunteering at the Resource Center, an organization that provides support, legal advice, and other assistance including meals to refugees and people seeking asylum.

“Every day they feed 250 people a free lunch,” Allahyari writes in the introduction to his cookbook Salamati: Hamed’s Persian Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Iran to the Other Side of the World. “I started cooking there two days a week, making Persian food for people from all over the world: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Miramar, Sierra Leone, all kinds of places, and most of them had never tried Persian food before. But when they tried it, they liked it. They talked to me about it, asked me about it, and it made me happy.”

Culinary Connections

At the recommendation of others, Allahyari also began teaching cooking classes, demonstrating how to make such dishes as Zeytoon Parvadrah (Olive and Walnuts Chunky Dip), Yogurt and Cucumber soup, Sabzi Pofow Ba Mahi (Fish with Herb Pilaf) Sabzi Pofow Ba Mahi (Fish with Herb Pilaf), and Persian Love Cake. Over the years, Allahyari taught more than 2500 people how to make Persian food. Now, he caters and is chef/owner of SalamiTea, a restaurant located in Sunshine, an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Melbourne. The name is a play on “salamati,” the Persian word meaning both “health” and “cheers.”

Salamati is more than just a cookbook, it’s also a memoir and homage to the country he had to flee. The introduction to the featured recipes in his book might offer a personal connection to the dish, a description of a unique ingredient that helps define it and bring out its best flavors—though he also offers a substitute for such items as Persian dried limes, which might be difficult to locate outside of a major city, and/or puts the food in context with the scenes to Iran.

This dish is traditionally served in Iranian shisha shops, the cafes where older men gather to smoke water pipes, drink tea and solve the problems of the world,” he writes about Ghahve Khunee Omelette (Street-Food Tomato Omelette). “Shisha shops don’t really serve food but inevitably people get hungry while they’re hanging around, so it’s become traditional for staff to whip up a quick tomato omelette for customers and serve it with bread, raw red onion, herbs and lemon. If you want one, all you ask for is ‘omelette.’ There’s no menu as such.”

Not all the recipes are easy but for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, there are enough simple ones to get started. Full-color photos of each recipe show what the finished product will look like. And for the adventuresome home chef, Allahyari offers a world of flavors.

This review originally appeared in the New York Journal of Books.

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