Araluen 2008: Paella


Please note that the family Virgo has already advised me that I didn’t stitch the pictures together too well.

My old and dear friend Stevie is a regular commenter here and blogs on his beefchange (like a treechange, but with cattle) at WoodenSpoon.  He and our friend  Captain Ken (that is his nom de progrock.  No, I am not kidding.) are part of a group of friends who started camping together at Araluen on the last weekend in November every year since their first year at university, 1983. When I was in Year 7. Just sayin’.

We first went three years ago, and again this November.  We had planned to go each time in between, but life and a Federal election intervened.

The hosts are Fabian and Judy, at the family property on the Deua River.  The valley is in lush stone fruit growing country, 30 clicks inland from Moruya and a couple of hours from Canberra.  There is a beautiful old wooden house with about 80 rainwater tanks, an Aga cooker and a big fireplace. At every turn there’s another little verandah with a couple more comfy chairs to sit in and admire the view.

A ten minute trek down the truly stupid hill takes you to a beautiful grassy flat near the river.  It wasn’t in flow this year, but there’s still a beautiful warm swimming hole surrounded by very steep treed banks.  And there’s a nice little flat shady spot where responsible parents can nurse their hangovers and respond when one of the kids shouts more loudly than usual from their floating crocodile.

As the years have gone by, there are more and more kids, but adults still slightly outnumber them.  There is a core of four-day campers, and others come and go for a night, or a day or two as they can manage.

There are some Big Serious Jobs that smooth the whole event, like mowing the flat with the tractor and chainsawing up enough wood to keep the fire burning all weekend.  Fortunately there are many big capable men who really get into those bits, which leaves the chicks some time for sitting around.

There is usually one big special meal together on the Saturday night.  The rest of the time, you make something when you or the kids are hungry and whoever fancies some is welcome.  Special meals in the past have included camp oven pizzas made to order by Simon, a whole fire roasted pig, a baked dinner, etc.  They are not always successes – the spectre of The Great Boiler Chicken Disaster of 1987 hang heavy over the air this year, when a paella with chicken and chorizo for sixteen was to be the main event.

Fabian was the Maestro of the paella and others brought tapas to share – huge green olives a, fiery spiced almonds, batatas bravas and anchovies with pickled chillies.

Fabian was planning to triple this Gourmet Traveller recipe for eight, and it had some specific information about how the cooking should be done for authenticity:

As with all classics, paella varies from village to village and even from household to household. Some say true paella Valenciana must be cooked outside over a fire made of orange branches, dished up with a boxwood spoon and eaten only at midday. In his book, Catalan Cuisine, Andrew Colman goes one further and writes that for men cooking and sharing paella, the only acceptable topics of conversation are “women, bullfighting and crops”.

The first stage was the lengthy browning of chicken pieces and chorizo.  Fortunately Fabian has a gargantuan wok from their Webber. While that was going on, the prep squad had mobilised. It takes a long time to infuse six litres of chicken stock with saffron on a gas ring, but there were many helpers.

Also, there was a bloke just standing around. Perhaps he was trying to work out whether the camping party had been infiltrated by one of the Milats.

One of the tricky things that the recipe didn’t mention was how to manage water from the tarp above you bucketing into the wok. We found that stationing a tall person there to artfully empty the pooling tarp worked OK.

It’s hard to serve paella glamorously when you’re to be eating off your lap wearing a headlamp and it’s pissing down, but you’re very unlikely to get any complaints. I had two helpings, and extra for breakfast. Next year: Woks of Fire!

There’s a set of the paella, and of the whole camp at flickr.


9 thoughts on “Araluen 2008: Paella

  1. Well, there’s a surprise. I thought I’d saved this as a draft. Obviously haven’t got the new version of wordpress quite under control yet.

  2. Hey Zoe, how scrummy…and I too was going to enquire about the mushies – last time we did the classic Araluen mushie trail was 1975/6…

  3. Oh, Megxx there was None of That. Captain Ken was the lead singer of Canberra band “The Suspect Mushrooms” when dylwah and I were students.

  4. Zoe ‘Captain Ken was the lead singer of Canberra band “The Suspect Mushrooms” ‘
    B52s inspired fuzz pop if i remember rightly, i was usually too busy dancing.

    what is it about rice and camping Zoe, it is like the laws of rice change when you leave the house. Camping at Mt Arapalies was the impetus to for Dr Honey and I to rediscover lazy rissoto, i gave up carrying it tramping, quick rice just doesn’t cut it once you have become a rice snob.

    even if you carry everything necessary from your kitchen, the elements conspire to make your life difficult. ah well, ours is not to reason why, ours is to find an appropriate measuring cup and a tight fitting lid.


  5. Correct, dylwah, although you might be hard pressed to recognise him out of the cape and 12 inch Doc Marten platforms.

    And Owen and I have some food Issewes camping. He would be content to eat tinned baked beans every night (provided they had chilli, coriander and garlic added).

  6. “although you might be hard pressed to recognise him out of the cape and 12 inch Doc Marten platforms.” Capes and 12 inch Doc Marten platforms have a well recognised quantum effect, all Capes and 12 inch Doc Marten platforms are continually in communication with all other Capes and 12 inch Doc Marten platforms thro a sort of Godel Phase Space.

    Please don’t talk to me about baked beans, i sent Dr Honey cans of baked beans, Watties, her fav from NZed, while she was in Hell A, at considerable expence i might add. She ate them cold out of the can.

    Re camping food, what is so hard about a smoked salmon omlette with parmesan and sea salt and freshly ground pepper. show some class. except of course that the omlette ought to be at least a little runny, not hard at all.

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