“Mother, Miss Reeves said the Country Project was due tomorrow. She gave the class a week to complete it.”
Anthony DiNozzo Jr, age 8, was in the 3rd grade and Miss Reeves was his teacher. She had assigned a project last Friday, due tomorrow morning. They had to make and bring in a food from a different country, while the class was learning of the many cultures around the world. Miss Reeves had put many different countries in an old weathered hat, and the class had to take turns and pull from the hat. He had hoped for Italy or Mexico, since those would be the easiest, but much to his dismay, had pulled Germany instead.
After the class had pulled their countries, Miss Reeves had taken the children to the school library, so each student could check out a book on their country. While reading, Tony found that he actually enjoyed learning about Germany, and was happy with the country he pulled. Tony soon reneged on the offer to trade with Steven, who had pulled Spain.
“Anthony, your father will just buy you something on the way to class tomorrow, now Mother is busy, why not go play with that stretchy arm doll that you had to have?” His mother moved her long blonde hair to behind her ear as she poured another cocktail into her glass.
“It’s Stretch Armstrong…” Tony mumbled looking at the colorful cocktail in disgust. He walked away and made his way up the grand staircase to his room.
“Miss Reeves says we have to make it ourselves. I really wanted to.” The small brown haired child whispered to himself, eyeing his book about Germany on his bed. Tony went to the big leather book, opened it and pulled out a small paper card that he had written in class. On it, in children’s scribbly handwriting, was a recipe for a breakfast food called “Zwieback”. He couldn’t pronounce it at first, but his teacher had helped him learn the complicated German word.
Tony put the recipe card into his corduroy pants pocket and looked at the ornate wooden clock on his wall. It was 8:32pm. He knew his father would be in his study, and his mom was in the parlor. If he was quiet enough he could sneak past his father and get to the kitchen. If his mom didn’t want to help, he would just have to make it himself! He was 8! That was practically an adult, besides he knew how to work the oven. The head chef, Lorenzo Benenati, let him watch him cook from time to time, so how hard could it be?
Tony opened his door as quietly as he could, and inched it closed behind him. He started to sneak past the many dark rooms, his sock covered feet aiding in his tiptoeing. He finally made it outside the study and stopped hearing his dad yelling curses and threats on the phone. Tony scurried past it, thankful that he wasn’t on the receiving end of his dad’s ire.
The small boy finally made it to the kitchen and took a peek in, making sure the coast was clear. When he saw that it was, he entered the grand kitchen, pulled the step stool out from under a back table and put it beside the countertop. He stood on the wooden stool and put the card on the counter, and read the instructions.
“Warm 1 cup of milk in a pot until it just starts to bubble.” Tony mumbled aloud to himself. He knew where the milk was, but the measuring cup was in the top cupboard. He couldn’t get it himself, unless he stood on the counter right below. Tony didn’t want to get in trouble, if he got caught standing on the clean counter, but he wanted to make the bread himself.
Steeling himself, the small child pushed his step stool over to the back counter. He grabbed onto the wooden handles of the cupboard for balance and he pulled himself till he stood atop the tiled counter. His eyes were in line with the top shelf of the cupboard and was about to make a grab for the glass measuring cup when he heard a deep gasp and the words “Maronna mia, Anthony!”
The young boy whipped around to see Lorenzo, coming towards him, shock, awe and surprise written on his tanned face. Within a few seconds the tall Italian man was beside the small boy who was frozen in fear at being caught red handed.
“What are you doing up there, Tony?” The chef’s calm baritone voice helped soothe Tony, who had begun to shake, his breaths coming in puffs.
“I was going t-t-to try to make the Z-Z-Zwieback for school tomorrow…” Tony stuttered mispronouncing the German word as he put his arms around himself shielding himself from the expected yelling from the chef. However he was caught off guard when instead of a scolding, Lorenzo laughed, deep and loud.
“Why did you not just come to me, we could ‘ave made it together, un’oca.” Tony shrugged his shoulders and was stunned stiff when strong arms grabbed him around his belly and swung him gently in a circle. Lorenzo placed Tony on his feet, on the ceramic tiled floor, a few twirls later. Tony laughed in surprise before a bright smile lit his face, now that he knew he wasn’t going to get in trouble with the bigger man.
“So where is this recipe of yours, Tony?” Lorenzo’s Italian accent softened as he grabbed his white apron from the small closet to the side, and reached in for a second one. He put the small blue apron around Tony’s head and tied it in back for him.
“It’s up there.” Tony nodded toward the high main counter with his chin, as he adjusted the straps going around his neck, straightening the apron.
“Molto bene, do you not look just like a proper chef, better not let your parents see ya, or I would be outta a job.” Lorenzo laughed again as Tony beamed from the compliment looking up at him. “So you ready to start baking?”
“Yeah!” Tony cheered and read the first instructions about the milk aloud again, as Lorenzo grabbed all the utensils and ingredients to make the sweat bread.
Lorenzo and Tony spent the next 2 hours baking the toast, during the long periods of waiting for the dough to rise, Lorenzo helped oversee Tony write his report on baking the German treat, giving small hints when the small boy couldn’t come up with the right word or instruction.
After the report was done and the toast was cooling off in the turned off oven (Lorenzo said that the recipe called for the bread to stay in the turned off oven till the cooling period was over), Tony looked over at the clock in the corner of the kitchen. It was now 10:40pm. He didn’t realize how sleepy he was until everything was done. Tony sat at the small table in the kitchen with his head on top of his crossed arms and let his eyes close.
The next thing he knew, Lorenzo brought over a plate with a slice of the toast and 2 glasses of milk. Tony didn’t remember Lorenzo removing the toast from the oven nor packing some away in a tight container for his classmates.
“I thought we could share some of your hard work.” Lorenzo split the piece of toast in half, taking his piece in hand and giving the plate with the other half to Tony, along with one of the glasses of milk.
Tony looked at the piece of toast he and Lorenzo had made, and flashed a brilliant 100-watt smile at the strong Italian. He then bit into the hard toast with gusto. The sweetness hit his tongue first, and he no longer felt tired, the sugar hitting his system with a slight jolt. He was looking forward to school tomorrow; sharing his treat and what he had learned about Germany with his classmates!
“Thank you for helping me with my project! Mother said Father would just buy something from the store in the morning, but now I get to bring something homemade! Baking was a lot of fun! Can I help you cook another time?!” Tony chattered away a mile a minute while munching on his toast, getting crumbs everywhere on his face. Lorenzo smiled at the exuberant boy and sighed shaking his head, those parents of his, didn’t know what they were missing with the bundle of joy Anthony is.
“Anytime, un’oca, anytime.” Lorenzo took a spare rag and wiped off the crumbs, then told Tony to finish his glass of milk, while he started cleaning the dishes.
By 11:20pm, the dishes were put away, the zwieback was packaged and ready for their trip to school and Tony’s glass of milk done. The boy thanked the chef one last time, before sneaking back up to his room, and changing into his pajamas.
Tony got into the cushioned bed and closed his eyes, the taste of warm sugar and cold milk mixing on his tongue and the excitement of going to class in the morning on his mind.
The morning flew by in a blur to Tony, as he got dressed and brushed his unruly hair. He went through his morning routine and made it downstairs, package of zwieback in hand, just as his fathers’ usual chauffeur arrived. He was glad that he had decided to make the German snack last night; when the driver told him that his dad had left earlier that morning, on one of his business trips earlier than expected. He was to take Anthony straight, no detours, to school and pick him up at 3:30pm exactly, when school let out.
Tony wasn’t too disappointed in not seeing his father that morning, he was used to his dad, going off trying to find the next big deal. Tony picked up his backpack, held his German bread close and sedately made his way to school via driver.
Once the school day was finished and he was home Tony, burst through the door, searching for his favorite adult.
“Lorenzo….Lorenzo!!” Tony yelled, running into the kitchen brown head turning everywhere searching for the dark haired Italian, only to barrel right into his arms.
Lorenzo caught the speeding boy into his arms and swung him once again, causing Tony to drop his blue and red backpack and peal with laughter.
“What is it, un’oca?” Lorenzo finished swinging Tony around and set him in the chair beside the table. The older man then gathered Tony’s after school snack of apple slices with peanut butter and some chocolate milk.
“Guess what?!” Tony positively vibrated in his seat with excitement as he tried to wait for Lorenzo to guess, rushing the food when it was placed in front of him.
“Eh, let’s see. You were so excited, you skipped out on lunch today and that is why you are now scarfing your snack down like it is the end of the world.” Lorenzo teased, drawing attention for Tony to slow down.
Tony took the slight hinted reprimand and slowed his eating to a reasonable pace, but had a hard time controlling his excitably.
“Miss Reeves gave me an “A” on my project and everyone loved the zwieback! They even wanted more, but I ran out!” Tony grinned and opened the now empty container which housed the German toast.
“Che grande! Tony that’s amazing!” Lorenzo put his hand on Tony’s head and ruffled the short hair, making it stick up in places.
Tony flashed a bright smile as he tried to get his hair back in place. “Yeah!! It was soooo much fun today! Everyone brought different things! There were drinks and desserts and snacks and food and everything! Steven had Spain and he brought a drink called hor-horch-horchata!” Tony’s smile grew wider as he pronounced the word and looked up at Lorenzo, who was smiling down listening to him, giving his full attention. Tony continued barely stopping for a breath, when he saw Lorenzo listening. “Then there’s this girl named Bianca in my class, and she got France! She brought in strawberry crepes! They were so delicious! Can we make crepes to?!” Tony stopped babbling happily when he was through with the retelling of his day and making new friends. The small child looked towards Lorenzo, smile permanently in place.
It had seemed to Lorenzo that nothing could destroy the kid’s smile.
“I am glad you had such a wonderful day Tony! What was your favorite part? What were some things that you learned from other countries?” Lorenzo questioned the young boy, who began vibrating once again at the attention.
“My favorite part was the-” Tony continued to talk as Lorenzo puttered around the kitchen preparing the dinner and dessert they would have later that evening. They talked until Tony had to start on his homework, who worked on it at the table, with help from the Italian chef.
Lorenzo Benenati, looked up from stirring the red Bolognese sauce, and nodded as Tony spoke up in search of a hint, if 8X4 really was 32, and scribbled it down when he saw the stealthy nod. The chef smiled to himself, humming a beautiful tune as he cooked and watched over the small boy that he grew attached to throughout the years.
‘As long as he does not lose that smile and spark for life, everything will turn out okay. He will grow up to be a great man.’ Lorenzo thought as he saw the small boy tilt his head and narrow his eyes in contemplation.
“Lorenzo, 9X6 is 48 right?” Tony questioned, eyebrows scrunched up in concentration with his tongue sticking out over his top lip. The chef laughed, finished stirring the sauce and put a glass lid over it. He then made his way over to the table and sat down in front of Tony. Tony was confused when Lorenzo held out his hands, showing 10 fingers, and slowly curled his left thumb inward, showing 5 fingers on his right hand and 4 on the left.
“Ima show you a trick Tony, now watch carefully. 9X1 is 9 right?” Tony knew his times 1 multiplication tables so he nodded, but didn’t see where this was going. Lorenzo uncurled his thumb and curled his pinky, showing again a 5 and 4 on both hands but all together, adding up to 9. “Times 9 is the only multiplication you can do on your hands. If you want to know any number up to 10, you can use your hands to give you the answer, just curl the finger that matches the number you are trying to multiply by. For example; 9x3, you bring in your 3rd finger and the answer is 27.” Lorenzo showed the small boy how until he saw the understanding spark in Tony’s green eyes. “So, you want to know what 9x6 is, curl your 6thfinger and tell me what you get.”
Tony curled his pinky on his left hand like he was taught and got the answer 54. “54! The answer is 54!” Tony bounced in his chair excitedly at having mastered this new trick! He couldn’t wait to go to class on Monday and show Steven and his new friend Bianca the trick!
“You got it Tony. Good Job!” Lorenzo ruffled Tony’s hair one more time before standing up, stretching, and making his way back to the stove, to finish making the dinner. He saw Tony’s green eyes sparkle at the good job, and pet his hair back down into the semblance of normal, smiling like a Cheshire cat, as he speedily wrote down the answers.
“Si, a great man.” The chef murmured and went back to humming, a smile on his lips.
“Huh?” Tony tilted his head to the side as he heard the Italian man speak softly, but gave up listening when he got to his next math problem.
Buono Come il Pane: Italian idiom; Good as bread: like the English idiom; Good as Gold. a good-hearted, generous person.
Maronna mia: “oh my God!”
Un’oca: an idiom: (goose): Someone silly, flighty.
Molto bene: Very Good
Che grande!: That’s great!
Zwieback: It is a type of crisp, sweetened bread, made with eggs and baked twice.
Horchata: Horchata, or orxata, is the name of several kinds of traditional beverages, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, tigernuts, or melon seeds.
Crepes: A crêpe or crepe is a type of very thin pancake, usually made from wheat flour or buckwheat flour. The word is of French origin, deriving from the Latin crispa, meaning "curled".