This weekend, I drove a total of 320 miles or 6 hours total for one magical road trip. It was inspired by a sweet gesture from Mike, and turned into a beautiful event for both of us. Let me tell you all about it.
I. The Inspiration: A Childhood Dream Come True
Mike's gift to me that inspired my road trip: a visit to the NC State Fair.
This weekend, Mike gave me a sweet gift: a do-over. He gave me the opportunity to revise a childhood memory from fifth grade.
My parents are going to kill me when they read this, because I've never told them anything about it. In fifth grade, my teacher scheduled a field trip to the State Fair in Raleigh, about 3 hours away. I'd never been to a fair, so I was thrilled to hear about the trip -- until I heard the cost: $90. To my fifth grade brain, that might as well have been a million dollars.
I thought of my daddy going off to work third shift every night at the newspaper. I thought of my mom working late into the night to get her nursing paperwork completed. I thought of how we had to be careful to make ends meet each month despite all of their hard work.
I decided not to tell them about the field trip. I knew they would sacrifice to let me go, and I knew I'd rather stay home than let that happen. I sat at school while the other kids climbed aboard the bus to Raleigh. I'm sorry Mom and Dad -- I know I should've given you the opportunity to send me! But my fifth grade mind was made up.
Imagine my surprise and delight when, a few weeks ago, Mike asked if I wanted to drive up and go to the State Fair. All of my fifth grade excitement came rushing back. Yes, I wanted a do-over! A second chance! A funnel cake!
In that spirit, this past weekend, Mike took me to my first fair. We ate copious amounts of fried food, petted fat billy goats, and definitely made up for lost time. It was better than it ever could've been in fifth grade, because Mike was by my side.
II. Returning the Favor with a Road Trip: Mike's Birthday Do-Over
I knew I wanted to do something special for Mike in return for what he'd done for me. Thankfully, Project Food Blog's challenge for Round 6 was to pack up a meal and take a road trip (thank you so much for voting me through to this point). My road trip was designed to surprise Mike with his very own special do-over!
Mike's surprise do-over.
On Mike's birthday this past year, I really goofed. I made him handmade pumpkin ravioli -- which probably sounds wonderful, except for the fact that he doesn't like pumpkin and it tasted awful. This isn't one of those "Oh, this could use more salt" things, y'all. It was gross.
For my road trip challenge, I decided to drive to Raleigh and throw Mike a heartfelt birthday do-over. Everything would be decorated in hearts and kisses and, most importantly, I'd make him a fantastic meal this time -- one to drive all thoughts of pumpkin ravioli straight out of his mind.
The menu and decor. Note to PFB voters: the picnic basket was just for charm; all food was transported in my PFB cooler per challenge guidelines! Oh, and psst - you can enter to win this chalkboard below!
I chose to make the following dishes for our party:
-handmade, heart-shaped cheese ravioli in a meaty red sauce
-heart-shaped palmiers with goat cheese and homemade pesto
-red velvet cupcakes with heart cutouts
-giant red velvet kisses with special messages
-hot chocolate with homemade heart-shaped marshmallows
Cooler packed and ready to go!
Besides being delicious, some of the dishes had special significance. The red velvet cupcakes were planned to remind Mike of cupcakes I made for him one Valentine's Day years ago, before I baked on a regular basis. He loved them so much that it inspired me to continue baking.
The hot chocolate represented sitting by the fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with him one December a couple of years ago. We hadn't expected to have access to a fireplace on our trip, and for some reason, it made us so happy. We sat by it and sipped hot chocolate, loving every minute.
Handmade ravioli -- now you see it, now you don't.
I prepped and cooked for 3 days before hopping in my car and driving up the interstate. The venue I'd chosen for our birthday party picnic was Historic Yates Mill Park, and it turned out to be breathtaking. We spread a quilt under the shade of some gorgeous trees and ate while looking out over the mirror-like pond. Heart streamers danced in the wind beyond our picnic blanket, and a few industrious ants tried to join us for our meal. We brought books to read, but ended up having too much fun playing, talking, lounging, and walking around the mill.
Heart-shaped Pesto and Goat Cheese Palmiers.
I <3 Dessert! A giant red velvet kiss, red velvet cupcakes with heart cut-outs, and hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.
Mike was coaxed into putting on the gigantic birthday hat I bought him. We blew birthday horns, I sang happy birthday, and he blew out his candles -- all just as it should have been on his real birthday. This time, there was no pumpkin disaster to overshadow the moment -- just me, Mike, and our little feast.
Normal Mike, and Julie-Made-Me-Wear-This-Stupid-Hat Mike
When all the food was packed away into the car again, we spent hours dwindling about the grounds. All told, four hours slipped past us like silt along the creek bed beside the mill. We decided picnics need to be a regular event for us.
Around the Historic Yates Mill: heart streamers, beautiful trees, and the mill itself.
Between fried cheesecake, corndogs, historic mills, and heart-shaped meals, Mike and I have had an amazing weekend. Thank you to Project Food Blog for my awesome cooler, and for inspiring my birthday party do-over. Most of all, thank you, my amazing readers, for voting for me in the last 5 rounds. I'd so appreciate your votes again in round 6!
Would you like to win the aqua chalkboard showcased in this post? Posh Pilfer is giving it away to one lovely reader (deadline for entering: Thursday, 10/28 at 6pm EST; winner will be chosen via random.org). To enter, answer the following question in the comment section: What memory do you wish you could "do-over"? Think about what you could do right now to make your do-over happen -- and go for it!
Want an extra entry? Follow Willow Bird Baking on Twitter, tweet this message, and leave an extra comment telling me that you've done so: I just entered to win a cute chalkboard from @julieruble of Willow Bird Baking: http://bit.ly/cz2iLB
Handmade Cheese Ravioli in Meaty Red Sauce
Recipe by: Adapted from Annie's Eats (pasta and ravioli); Sauce adapted from Strawberry Hedgehog
Yield: enough pasta to serve about 2 people
Ravioli Pasta Ingredients:
2 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon water, plus more as needed (I ended up using several full tablespoons)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole ricotta
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
fresh basil, chopped, to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, chopped, to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
about 3 links of Italian sausage, crumbled and browned
2 16-oz. cans tomato sauce
4 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
chopped fresh basil to taste
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Make the pasta: In a food processor, combine the eggs, water, olive oil and flour. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are well mixed and a dough begins to form. If the mixture is not coming together, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time just until the dough is formed. Transfer the dough from the food processor to a work surface. Knead 1-2 minutes by hand. Cover with a clean towel and let rest for 20 minutes. Knead again for 1-2 minutes, or until dough starts to feel more supple and elastic. Let rest for another 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces. If you have a pasta machine, see instructions here for how to prepare the sheets of dough. If not, roll one piece of the dough out on a lightly floured surface, pressing hard and rolling diligently until the dough is very thin. Use a large heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out ravioli pieces. Let these rest while you mix your filling.
Mix filling: Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Taste and season accordingly.
Assemble ravioli: Place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle of half of the heart shapes, leaving a clear edge around the perimeter. Dip a finger in water and lightly brush around the edges of a heart topped with the filling. Place one of the remaining pasta hearts on top and press the edges of the pasta shapes together to seal around the filling, being careful to press out any excess air. Repeat with the remaining dough shapes.
Make sauce: While browning Italian sausage, mix all other ingredients together in a bowl. Add to sausage and cook until heated through. In the meantime, cook pasta: bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the ravioli until al dente, about 4-5 minutes. Drain well and add ravioli to the sauce, tossing to coat. Serve with a spring of basil and shaved Parmesan.
At one point, my "Check Airbags," "Low Tire Pressure," and gas light were all lit. Glad I was only 5 minutes from my destination at this point!