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.”