Read an Excerpt
The Bertolizzi family looked up from their picnic just in time to see a football sailing toward them.
“I got it!” Alfie shouted, catching the ball right before it landed in the penne-pasta salad. “Maybe I should play football instead of soccer,” he said, grinning.
A teenage boy from across the park waved his hand for the ball. “Sorry!” he called. Alfie gave the football his best pass back. It wobbled through the air and landed short.
“I think you should stick with soccer.” Alfie’s big sister, Emilia, laughed.
Alfie gave Emilia’s shoulder a playful nudge. The family—Mom, Dad, Alfie, Emilia, and their great-aunt Donatella—had just finished their picnic lunch. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon in the park, and the sun was shining bright.
“What a great afternoon,” Dad said to Mom.
“And don’t forget the party we have to look forward to tonight,” Mom reminded him.
Alfie and Emilia’s parents were going out to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Alfie and Emilia would stay home with Zia, which was always fun. They never knew what kind of adventure Zia might cook up for them. So far, Zia’s magical recipes had transported them to Naples, Paris, and Hong Kong!
Alfie and Emilia collapsed onto the blanket after their latest round of Frisbee. Mom leaned back on her hands and said, “Che bello. We should do this more often.”
Dad put down his paper. “What we need to do is plan that family viaggio: the vacation we keep talking about.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Zia Donatella said, adjusting her round black sunglasses. Mom and Dad were always busy with work and didn’t take enough time to relax. The family hadn’t been on a vacation together in years.
“Yes!” Mom said. “Where should we go?”
Alfie and Emilia exchanged a glance. Little did their parents know, they’d been to a few cities recently, but they were always up for discovering somewhere new.
“We could go to Japan,” Alfie said.
“Yeah, Japan,” Emilia quickly agreed. “Or maybe Australia.”
“France!” Emilia added.
“But we’ve already been to P—” Alfie started to say. Zia cleared her throat and touched the brightly colored stone necklace she always wore.
“How about Mongolia?” Alfie quickly changed directions.
Mom laughed. “Sounds exciting, but just what kind of family vacation do you think we’re taking?”
“An adventurous one!” Alfie said, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Someplace like Arizona sounds adventurous to me,” Dad said.
“Arizona?!” Alfie responded.
“Yeah, Arizona. You know, desert landscapes, Lake Havasu, a little something called the Grand Canyon!” Dad replied.
“I guess.” Alfie shrugged.
“Or we could go mountain biking in the Rocky Mountains,” Dad said.
“That’s a good idea,” Mom said. “You take your bike up on the ski lift and then ride down the mountain. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
Alfie had to agree that sounded pretty cool. But still . . . there were so many places in the world to see. He was hoping his parents would take them somewhere outside the United States.
“How about,” Alfie began, “instead of mountain biking in the Rockies, we do it in the Alps?”
“Yeah,” Emilia said. “The Swiss Alps!”
“We’re happy you’re both so interested in world travel,” said Mom. “But for now, we’ll stay a bit closer to home. Like Washington, DC. There’s so much great history there.”
Emilia perked up. She loved history as much as Alfie loved maps.
“Hey, Emilia. You know what place has tons of history?” Alfie asked. “Greece! We could go see the Acropolis of Athens. Right?” he said to his parents.
“Zia,” Mom said, shaking her head. “What are we going to do with these two?”
Zia smiled. “I think there are so many wonderful places in America to see that it’d be hard to see them all in one lifetime. But we can start trying.”
“Brava!” Dad said. “Zia’s got the right attitude.”
Mom began packing the leftover pasta salad, grilled vegetables, and flatbread into their picnic basket. “Well, let’s keep thinking about where we might want to go. But for now, your dad and I need to get home so we can get ready for our evening out. What have you got planned for tonight, Zia?” she asked.
Alfie and Emilia helped Zia fold up the picnic blanket. “Oh, I’m sure we’ll find something fun to do,” Zia said. “Maybe something in the kitchen?” She sneaked a quick wink at Alfie and Emilia.
“Yes!” Alfie and Emilia said at once. There weren’t many things they loved more than being in the kitchen with ZiaDonatella. Hearing her tell stories about her travels was better than any movie or video game. Because when Zia cooked, she always took them someplace special.
Mom was all dressed up when she walked into the living room. She fastened a bracelet around her wrist.
“Mom, you look nice,” Emilia said, looking up from where she sat on the floor with Alfie and Zia. They were huddled around the coffee table, working on a puzzle.
“Grazie, amore. Thank you, love,” Mom said. “So, Zia, did you say you’re going to cook dinner or you’re going out?”
Zia Donatella frowned at Mom.
“Cucina,” Mom said. “You’ll cook. Of course.”
“I have a plan for tonight that I think the kids are going to love,” Zia said. “Something interessante, a little interesting, to help them see how wonderful it is right here in their own backyard. Ha! Found one,” she said, locking a puzzle piece into place.
Alfie propped his elbow on the table and rested his chin in his hand. He and Emilia never knew when one of Zia’s magical recipes might send them to a new place. They were always ready to meet new friends and taste amazing new foods. But it sounded like tonight wouldn’t be one of those nights.
Dad came into the living room wrestling with his tie. “Whatever you decide to do, have fun tonight,” he said.
“And you kids try to behave yourselves,” Mom added as she fixed Dad’s tie for him.
“We’ll find some kind of trouble to get into, don’t worry.” Zia smiled.
Mom and Dad kissed Alfie and Emilia on their heads and left for the party.
“Now then,” Zia said, getting up from the floor. “Time to start dinner.”
“Already?” Alfie looked at the clock. “It’s kind of early.”
“Some dishes take time,” Zia said. “Like the one I want us to make tonight.”
Emilia and Alfie followed Zia into the kitchen. “What can we do to help?” Emilia asked.
“We can start with the holy trinity,” Zia said.
“For this dish, it’s three things: onion, celery, and bell pepper. They all need to be diced.”
“I’m on it.” Emilia slid over to the fridge in her polka-dot socks. She carried the ingredients back to the cutting board, where Zia watched her chop up the vegetables.
“Careful now,” Zia said. “Take your time, and keep those fingers out of the way.”
“I will,” Emilia said, concentrating.
“While she’s doing that, we can start on a key part of the dish,” Zia told Alfie. “The roux.”
“I’m ready,” Alfie said. He was happy to handle the important stuff and leave the dicing to Emilia.
“To make the roux we need equal parts butter and flour,” Zia said, pulling out a heavy stockpot and a stick of butter. “Alfredo, will you get the flour from the pantry?”
“Sure,” Alfie said.
“What’s roo, anyway?” Emilia asked, keeping her eyes on the cutting board.
“Roux, spelled r-o-u-x, is a special base sauce,” Zia said.
“Sounds French,” Emilia said, stopping to look at Alfie. He knew what that look meant. Maybe they were going back to Paris, or to somewhere else in France?
Zia nodded. “Very good.”
“What else?” Alfie asked, setting the flour on the counter.