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Healdsburg Airstream owner creates cookbook with stress-free recipes for the road

Claudia Sutton of Healdsburg first set eyes on an Airstream trailer when she was studying photography at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.

“When I was at RISD, I saw a photo exhibit by Cindy Sherman at the MOMA in New York City, and she had a Bambi Airstream in the middle,” she recalled. “I fell in love and wanted one ever since.”

About a year and a half ago, she and her partner, John Stave, took the plunge and bought a 2019 Airstream Tommy Bahama 27FB from Bay Area Airstream Adventures in Fairfield.

The chrome home-away-from-home that flies down the highway like a silver bullet, air streaming behind it, has been a dream come true for the artist, who with Stave has joined the Greater Bay Area Airstream Club as well as the Duncan Mills Camping Club, a private campground open to dues-paying members along the Russian River.

“The Airstream helps me reconnect with art and nature,” said Sutton, who works full time as a wine ambassador at Sbragia Family Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. “For me, Airstreams and art are interchangeable. They are shiny beauties.”

It also reconnected the artist to her love of cooking, which always has served as her art form when she wasn’t taking photos or painting.

“I love to entertain and share food with people,” she said. “When I went away to college, I got a subscription to Gourmet magazine, and I started cooking for all of my starving friends.”

Back in March, when she was laid off from her former job at a large wine company due to the pandemic, Sutton decided to use her free time to create a cookbook for Airstream and RV owners: “A Moveable Feast: Recipes for Rolling Kitchens,” featuring about 100 recipes and 100 illustrations made with watercolor pencil.

“My kids and friends always wanted me to do a cookbook,” she said. “I saw there was a niche and a market for it. ... Airstreams are sold out all over the U.S. People are realizing that it’s a much safer way to travel.”

For her COVID-19 cookbook project, Sutton culled through recipes she had gathered over the past several years. Originally, she thought she would illustrate the book with photographs, but a friend suggested she try her hand at illustration.

With the help of Blurb, a self-publishing guide, she designed an attractive, 8-by-10-inch book with a soft cover and original, cheerful artwork on every page.

“I worked on the cookbook full time for six weeks, doing the illustrations and the layout,” she said. “I had no experience in it, and I broke the cookbook mold. I wanted to make it unique.”

Packing the cookbook with tips

Sutton wrote the cookbook for people who aren’t quite comfortable in the kitchen but want to up their cooking game, especially on vacation.

“The meal prep creates stress,” she said, “I wanted to share the techniques that I use — freezing, making ahead, using pantry items — so it’s much more relaxing.”

The cookbook starts with a chapter on pantry essentials you can make ahead in your home kitchen, such as an Heirloom Tomato Sauce, flavored sea salts and a Rosemary Orange Marmalade, delicious over cheese.

She also includes a list of store-bought items to stock up on before you hit the road, such as spices, oils and vinegars, beverages and condiments.

“We like to get our fish fresh from local markets,” she writes. “We keep our freezer stocked with easy-to-grab meats, casseroles and other make-ahead meals.”

Then the book moves into breakfast dishes, soups and salads, vegetables, pasta, seafood, chicken, pork and beef, desserts and cocktails. At the end, she gives menu ideas for dishes that would harmonize well, such as her Caesar Salad with her Pasta Puttanesca with Grilled Ahi Tuna.

Not all who wander are lost

Although born in Carmel, Sutton grew up in Connecticut and thoroughly enjoyed her time as an art student at RISD.

“It was affordable and had a good music scene,” she said of the capital of Rhode Island. “And I loved the Italian and Portuguese neighborhoods.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine art, she lived in New York City and owned an antiques store with her mother in Greenwich, Connecticut. When she was 29, she moved to Mill Valley to raise her three kids: Hamilton, now 30; Savannah, 28, and Talia, 21.

While raising her kids, she taught cooking classes out of her home in Mill Valley. After she got divorced, she decided to move to a cottage on a quiet cul de sac in Healdsburg. That’s where she and her partner park their Airstream when they aren’t on the road, attending a rally or camping along the Russian River.

“It’s called Smitten, and we call it Smitty for short,” she said about her trailer. “Airstreams have been around for 100 years. Ours is more camp funky. ... It’s designed in a casual, relaxed style, with a bar.”

The back of Smitten opens up in the great outdoors. That’s where the “dinette” table is located, so they can enjoy their food in the fresh air, where it always tastes better.

In the future, Sutton plans to write an appetizer book packed with tasty hors d’oeuvres such as her Wild Mushroom Crostinis that she likes to serve at Airstream rallies.

“There will be 20 Airstreams at a rally,” she said. “You meet for cocktail hour and cook dinner together. Sometimes you go for a hike or do an activity, like persimmon picking.”

Airstream inventor Wally Byam, who had an eye for design, built the first chrome travel trailer in 1929 and founded the company now known as Airstream in 1931.

“Wally Byam founded the Airstream based on people caravanning together all over the world,” she said. “When we’re retired, we’ll do an Alaska caravan.”

To order the cookbook, go to recipesforrollingkitchens.com

The following recipes are from Claudia Sutton’s “A Moveable Feast: Recipes for Rolling Kitchens.”

Grilled Chipotle Corn Salad

Makes 6 servings

6 ears corn, husked

1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

⅓ cup sour cream

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons chipotle pepper purée (see note below)

1 scallion, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper

Preheat grill to medium-high, 450 degrees. Brush corn and onion slices with olive oil and grill until charred in spots but still crisp. Cut the kernels from the corn and chop the onion. In a serving bowl, stir together the rest of the ingredients and add the corn and onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: To make chipotle pepper purée, purée a can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce in a food processor and place in a jar.

“This soup is as beautiful as it is delicious,” Sutton writes. “The recipe is easy to double or quadruple if you’re serving a crowd.”

Watermelon and Cucumber Gazpacho

Serves 6 to 8

1 seedless watermelon, about 3 pounds, pink flesh diced

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)

1 red pepper, seeded and diced

1 yellow pepper, seeded and diced

1 jalapeňo pepper, seeded and minced (wear gloves)

3 pale green inner celery stalks, diced

½ small red onion, diced

¼ cup finely chopped mint

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup crème fraiche

In a blender, purée 4 cups of the watermelon, reserving the rest, until smooth. Transfer purée to a large bowl. Add the rest of the watermelon and all the remaining ingredients, except crème fraiche. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. Divide among serving bowls and top with a dollop of the crème fraiche.

“When we are camping near the coast, one of my favorite things to do is to go to the harbor or local fish market and pick up some of that day’s fresh catch,” Sutton writes “There is something so special about camping near the water (and) eating fresh fish.”

Grilled Swordfish Tacos with Tropical Fruit Salsa

Serves 4 to 6

For salsa:

½ fresh pineapple, coarsely chopped

Flesh of 1 ripe mango, chopped

2 scallions, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon chile sauce

For tacos:

2 pounds mahi mahi, halibut or swordfish

¼ cup dry vermouth

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

¼ cup minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon chile sauce

8 large corn tortillas or 12 small ones

Up to 6 hours before serving: Make salsa by combining all eight ingredients in a medium bowl, tossing to combine. Cover and keep refrigerated; remove from fridge a half hour before serving to bring to room temperature.

Up to 2 hours before grilling: Combine the vermouth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger and chile sauce and add to a Ziploc bag with the fish, turning to coat. Place bag in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat grill to medium, 350 degrees. Wrap tortillas in foil. Remove fish from fridge. Brush the grill with oil and grill about 6 minutes per side until fish is cooked through. Warm tortillas on the grill while you are cooking the fish. Slice fish into 1-inch strips and transfer to a heated serving dish. Spoon salsa over fish and serve with warm tortillas.

“I created this recipe for my partner, John,” she writes. “I usually make a double batch of these and freeze most of them in Seal-a-Meal or Ziploc freezer bags. They are a big hit at Airstream rallies, and they make wonderful ice cream sandwiches.”

Johnny Come Lately Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1¼ cups unsalted butter

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup oatmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar

⅓ cup white sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups chopped pecans

1½ cups dark chocolate chips

Maldon flaky salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until it foams, then browns. It should have a nutty aroma. Add butter to the bowl of a mixer, if using, or a large mixing bowl if mixing by hand.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oatmeal, baking soda and salt.

Add sugars to the bowl with the browned butter and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add eggs and vanilla and beat about 30 seconds. If using a mixer, reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, followed by the pecans and chocolate. Let dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow flour to hydrate.

Form balls of dough and sprinkle with the flaky Maldon salt. Bake cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, then cool on racks.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

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