To celebrate National Cheese Soufflé Day, I did what any person would do when the task of making a soufflé is in front of them: I went on a road trip. It was kind of spur of the moment idea and when it was time to go, I didn’t quite feel like saying, “wait, I have to make a cheese soufflé.” Saying yes to a road trip is seeing the big picture kind of stuff, so I didn’t want to be bogged down with the details of this particular holiday. I had the tiniest of hopes that we would come across a restaurant that is famous for their Cheese Soufflés in our travels, like Susie’s Soufflés (as seen on Travel TV), but I had my doubts this even existed. No, this was just a road trip for Lola and I – cheese soufflé be damned.
The reason for the road trip is that on Monday, I begin my new job. I’ll get more into the details of that in the upcoming weeks, but starting Monday, I’ll be back at a Monday through Friday job in an office and working for the man. I’m kind of excited about the opportunity, but it will also mark the end of a time in our lives when Lola and I spent a lot of time together. Sure we had some moments when we were up in each other’s business and all we wanted was just time alone, but for the most part, it was a time when we really learned to be partners and friends. It was special. Seems that even after being together for sixteen years, you can still grow closer to someone and that has been a lot of what this past year has delivered. And although Monday ushers in an exciting new chapter in the book of Dan and Lola, we are both realizing that our time together will be changing. We needed to celebrate our last days of freedom (so to speak) and the universe could not have delivered a more beautiful day in which to celebrate. So we just threw caution to the wind and decided to go on a road trip. We departed around noon and made our first stop about ten minutes later for coffee.
Initially we had thoughts about heading to Cape Cod to Chatham which is always a nice little place to getaway. We have vacationed there a few times as guests of Becky and Jeff (Jeff being a native Chathamite) and we have even gone there on our own for some respite. It’s not too far away and it gives you kind of everything you want: beach, fun town, good restaurants and that vacation feel. But then I had the idea about going some place we had never been before and the thought of Watch Hill, RI popped in my head. I didn’t know much about Watch Hill but had heard good things and it was a place we had never been before. Lola was game too, so now we had a destination that was only a little over an hour away. To get there, we pretty much drove down Route 1 through all the beach towns on the mainland (as us Islanders will say). We went through Narragansett, Matunuck, Charlestown, Westerly, etc. and the closer we got to Watch Hill, the more it started to feel like we were heading to a vacation town. When we pulled off onto Route 1A, we started seeing the hills that roll towards the beaches and all the houses, cottages and mansions that line the streets. Really beautiful properties in the area. Eventually we landed at the end of the road which is where the shops, inns and attractions of Watch Hill are found. We parked and started to walk about.
At the end of the road was the famous Watch Hill Carousel which when I saw it, made me realize I had been here before. It was when we were younger and although I had no idea where it was, it has always stuck out in my mind because not only was it a merry-go-round, it was one where you could lean out and try to grab a brass ring. Normally a carousel was kind of boring, just going in circles, but adding in this dimension of grabbing something as you went by made it more of a game. It made it fun and for years now, I have always had that memory of it being my favorite carousel which was somewhere that my parents took us. Apparently it was Watch Hill. Lola felt she had been here too at a birthday party for her friend Steph. The brass ring stood out in her mind as well. It was a funny moment of recollection to suddenly have this place from your memory make sense, as if it was only a dream prior to today. The Watch Hill carousel is apparently the oldest continuously operating carousel in the United States, or at least that’s what the sign said. But apparently that means “in season” because it was still packed away for the summer. No horses, no brass rings, no calliope – just an empty gazebo building strewn with beach sand and empty promises. That’s when we realized we were there in the off season so not everything would be open and full of life today. However, because parts of the state were hitting ninety degrees, there were people walking about and heading to the beach. There were a lot of young kids there too which I didn’t understand. Maybe they were college kids home from school (which made me feel old because they looked like kids), or maybe they were high schoolers ditching school (do kids still ditch school?). But there were families on vacations around too which was confusing because you wouldn’t think families would go on vacation in the last weeks of school.
Our first order of business was to get a drink and something to nosh on and we stopped at the first place we saw that was open. It was called the Olympia Tea Room and apparently it’s kind of a famous place. We got a table outside and the host made us feel like that she was doing us a favor by allowing us to have drinks on the patio, so not the friendliest of greetings, but we got a seat and ordered up some drinks and some homemade chips and salsa. Lola got their signature mojito which was pretty good and came served with a stalk of raw sugar cane which is always Lola’s favorite. But my drink was by far the best. It was a Gin Lime Rickey and this may just become my summer drink. It was gin with fresh lime, simple syrup and soda water served in a tall Collins glass. So refreshing. I love the name Lime Rickey too, so I will be recreating these at home very soon – it was that refreshing. The chips and salsa were good too, although the place was pretty pricy. In fact everything in Watch Hill was on the pricier side which we soon realized was the vibe they are going for. Kind of snobby. No matter, it was a beautiful spot and I had a particularly beautiful view.
We walked around town for the next hour or so and kind of soaked in all we could. Most of the shops were closed down, although you could tell everyone was gearing up for the season to kick in. If we were to come back in a month, it would have a whole different vibe to the place. Still, it felt like vacation and nothing better than the feel of warm sun on your face as you walk about a new land and explore. After we saw all that we could, we hopped back in the car and took the long way home. We drove by Misquamicut Beach which is a spot that we would sometimes go to as a kid (the beach with the big waves, as we would call it) and that seemed to be a bit more active but I am sure it was mostly college kids taking advantage of the walk up bars right off the beach. Nothing wrong with that, but not for us. It was still beautiful out and we decided to stop on our travels for an early dinner. We were driving by one of our favorite spots, the Matunuck Oyster Bar, so we decided to head there. In the summer, you can expect a long wait to get into the place but because it was early and off season, we were able to get right in (although they were still very busy).
We originally came here back on on our anniversary in August (which was Day 4 of this quest). We loved it and had a great dinner. Tonight we started with a sampler plate of oysters which every time we order, we are amazed that we like them, but we do. The oysters were from the local river and also from Watch Hill, which we thought was an odd coincidence. As always, they were delicious and it was a great way to start off. For dinner Lola had two appetizers – a quinoa crab salad and scallop ceviche. She was in heaven. Lola loves eating little bites and this was perfect for her. We had a big table in an out of the way corner that gave us a great view and also gave us the perfect volume for the music that was playing which was an eighties station. It was so making everything right. Lola spread out her plates and took her time enjoying every morsel. I went for the whole belly fried clams and that was a bad choice. Nothing wrong with the way they were prepared, I just don’t like whole belly clams and I didn’t realize that when I ordered them. I almost never have fried clams, but for some reason I had a craving, but I was thinking about clam strips. Whole bellies, to me, are like licking the snot out of a clam and frying it up. Sometimes you pick the wrong thing. I still filled up on french fries, their fresh cole slaw and their homemade rolls served with olive oil to dip in. I was happy. To finish, we shared their homemade strawberry shortcake which was made with a fresh baked drop biscuit, strawberry ice cream and really fresh, sweet strawberries. It was the perfect ending.
We were on our way home and the sun was just about to call it a day as we passed over the bridges onto Aquidneck Island. When we got home, Lola went outside to play in the garden while she still had some sunlight to work in. I just kind of putzed around and chilled. Then I started looking up recipes for cheese soufflés.
I landed between two recipes: Alton Brown’s and Rachel Ray’s. Alton’s recipe was easy enough, but it was for a big soufflé and I do not have a big soufflé dish, only small ones. Rachel’s recipe was for mini soufflés and that was more what I needed. In the end, I kind of merged the two recipes to what I wanted. Alton had you coat the pan in parmesan cheese while Rachel had you use regular flour, so I used Alton’s method. Alton actually used cheddar too and I went with that over Rachel’s gruyere preference. I like gruyere, I just had cheddar cheese in house. Alton’s instructions got very science-y as he tends to get, which was fine, but not what I wanted. Rachel’s recipe was more relaxed and off the cuff, as is her style, so I followed her instructions. I melted the cheese with some flour and milk, tempered in some egg yolks and then when that was ready, I folded in some freshly whipped egg whites. Rachel did not have you use Cream of Tartar for making the egg whites, but I kind of felt that any soufflé or merengue calls for a tiny pinch, so I added it in. When the eggs whites were at stiff peak, I folded them in slowly. When I had my batter, I scooped them into the prepared ramekins and they went in the oven for 15 minutes. I cleaned up everything while they were cooking so now all I had to do was wait and then eat up. It was about 9:30 and I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I couldn’t let my quest falter now. I hard to push on. Thankfully when they came out, they smelled and looked awesome.
So a cheese soufflé is basically a super fluffy omelette. Really fluffy, like airy. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious and I say that after eating it and not being remotely hungry, but it wasn’t a new experience to me. It was a taste I knew. The cheddar cheese flavor was nicely balanced throughout and the parmesan from the edges of the dish added in a slight little twang that helped complete the taste. It was a perfectly cooked egg and it was so light and fluffy that it brought a whole new dimension to eating eggs, but it was eating eggs. This is good too because I love eggs, so I really enjoyed it. From a presentation standpoint, they are kind of neat and having them rise high above the edges of the dish made them look cool, but like all soufflés, after a while, they shrink down. Rachel suggested serving these with an arugula salad and I think that would be perfect as a nice little brunch item, so I could see the allure. However, as a late night snack, you are probably better off just cooking an omelette than going through the whole rigamarole of soufflé making.
That was a day. Lola is probably my favorite person to go on any road trip with because she’s good company, she’s always up for adventure and we always seem to be on similar pages. Today’s trip was special because it was so spur of the moment and we went to a place that we had never been (or at least we weren’t aware that we had been there). It was a gorgeous day outside – hot sun, beautiful blue skies, rolling seas – you couldn’t ask for better, and I’m glad we stopped our lives and smelled the roses. Changes are coming to our life and while we are both full of hope of what the future is bringing, we couldn’t help be a little sad to say goodbye to the closeness Lola and I have forged over the last year. It was a bittersweet day of relaxation for us. But what we realized is that we can always just roll with what life gives us. No matter the road we take, no matter the turn or the detour – we have each other to help us get through. Even when that means making a cheese soufflé at the end of a long day – we’ll get by and we’ll do it with smiles on our faces. Today’s celebration may be under the headline of National Cheese Soufflé Day but it was really a celebration of Dan and Lola. We rise greater than any soufflé. (I think Maya Angelou said that).
Next up: National Devil’s Food Cake Day