For a few days last week I led the unencumbered life. I stayed out late, ate Cajun food, explored the secrets of spanakopita, and sipped my way through a wine tasting.

My wife and kids were out of town, which meant for three glorious days I was free of domestic responsibility.


The first thing I noticed was I was off the time clock. There was no need to rush home, ferry a kid to a birthday party, stopping for milk and shoestrings on the way.

If I wanted to linger after work and eat oyster dressing, Louisiana chicken with ginger snap gravy, shrimp Creole and jambalaya, I could.


And so I did just that one night at a special Cajun feast whipped up at the Downtown Athletic Club by Michael Jermann, who is a club staffer, and Paul Bryant, a club member. After several platefuls of the finely seasoned food and a few glasses of an incredibly smooth sangria punch, made by John Perkins, the club restaurant's chef, I didn't just feel good. I felt like a grown-up.

I sat down at a restaurant table where two couples were discussing their favorite Australian films, the choice Australian writers, and the best Center Stage plays. I vaguely remembered when my wife and I used to behave that way. I think it is called dinner-table conversation.

At my house, voices are regularly raised at the family dinner table. But usually the topics being shouted about are Michael Jackson's latest song, who in the family can kick the soccer ball the highest, and who is a "dummyhead."

The next night I went to First Thursday, even though I wasn't entirely sure what it was.

A with-it person at work told me that First Thursday referred to the first Thursday of the month. On this night, the museums, art galleries and shops on Charles Street stay open a few hours later. Folks stroll up and down Charles Street, sipping wine and drinking in culture.

First Thursday has been around for a while. I just had not noticed it. I think I didn't know about First Thursday because the space in my brain that keeps track of special days of the week was dTC occupied worrying about First Monday. That is the one day of the month when I have to remember to suit up the 6-year-old in his Cub Scout shirt, which he wears to school. Now I know that First Thursday, art day, is three days after First Monday, Cub Scout day.

I didn't actually make it to an art gallery. I got as far as Sascha's catering kitchen on Lovegrove Street, the alley east of Charles Street. Sascha's had joined in the First Thursday spirit and was pouring wine and offering cooking demonstrations. I was one of about 25 people who watched Quinn Appleby, Sascha's chef, make spanakopita, the spinach and feta cheese pastry. Early in the the demonstration, the crowd was polite and watched as Appleby folded the pastry over the spinach, just like you fold the flag, in triangles.

But as the wine flowed, culinary order dissolved. It was audience participation, Geraldo style. Audience members rushed forward to volunteer making spanakopita. Some didn't do what they were told. Some were free-form spanakopita types. Instead of making triangles, for instance, they folded the dough into pyramids, even parallelograms. No one seemed to care.


I slipped out of Sascha's and made my way over to the Peabody Library, where a wine tasting benefiting Santa Claus Anonymous was under way.

Surrounded by gleaming stacks of books, I sipped Jekel '87 Cabernet Franc, Guenoc '86 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Potelle '89 Chardonnay, Firestone '89 Merlot, and Gauer '88 Alexander Valley Chardonnay.

Not only did I get to taste these wines, I got to keep my glass. It was a souvenir from Morton's, the wine and food shop whose owner, Janice Talbot, organized the event.

We have plenty of souvenir drinking containers at home. But this wine glass was the first in our collection that was not adorned with a cartoon character or a commando. Moreover, if this container hits the kitchen floor, it doesn't bounce like most of our souvenir ware. It breaks. It is made of real glass.

The days of spanakopita and wine glasses ended when the kids came home. Shortly after I picked them up at the airport, they were upstairs watching the films of Huey, Dewey and Louie, and I was down in the kitchen slinging sandwiches.

I had a cooked a whole ham, figuring it would make a nice Sunday night dinner. When I offered a ham sandwich to the 10-year-old, he shook me off. "I have had a lot of that kind of food lately," he said. "How about a peanut butter sandwich?"


Peanut butter sandwiches are my specialty. They taste especially, good, I discovered, if you fold the sandwich in triangles, and serve them with milk, in a souvenir glass.