By Carol Dzadony-Mancini
Yes. A pun. A play on words. You can blame or thank Austrian-born Falco (1957-1998) of 1980s music one-hit wonder fame for my pun-full title.
Perhaps I should thank him also, for the song title of the movie with the same name, Amadeus (1984) for making me obsessed with classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Mozart's musical style is known for its elegance, balance and emotional depth. He excelled in various forms, from symphonies and operas to chamber music and piano compositions. His music is characterized by its melodic beauty, intricate harmonies, and impeccable craftsmanship. Mozart's works often display a perfect blend of drama and lyricism, showcasing his mastery of both structured forms and moments of emotional expression.
His works emphasized balance, clarity and logical progression. His compositions often adhere to traditional structures such as sonata-allegro form, minuet and trio, and rondo. Mozart's harmonic language was sophisticated, blending both conventional progressions and unexpected modulations.
As a student of classical piano studies since 1982, I learned the composer's pieces, first in their elementary arrangements, but quickly progressing to the original works of art. Dr. Helen Gossard, professor of music at Carnegie Mellon University helped me develop my technical skills, mental tenacity of repeating the sequences of notes until perfection, with a simple clearing of her throat I knew the tone and keys were wrong, all while maintaining upbeat and positive composure. She instilled the mental fortitude to do it until it was perfect. Do it again and again and again. That mindset has never left me. It's a blessing and also a curse.
I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh where I was raised with my two sisters. Everything they did, I wanted to do. This included playing piano and being a cheerleader for my high school team the Sto-Rox Vikings!
Anyone from there, we still bleed green and white. Don't ask me why. We have an innate love for our town that cannot be described.
The Sto-Rox (me Amadeus) School District is a public school district located in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United States. The name "Sto-Rox" is derived from the names of the two communities it serves: Stowe Township and McKees Rocks Borough. The district has a history dating back to the early 20th century.
The McKees Rocks area, including Stowe Township, where the district is located, was historically an industrial and working-class community. The school district was formed in 1967 as a result of a merger between the Stowe Township School District and the McKees Rocks School District. This consolidation aimed to streamline resources and provide a more efficient and comprehensive educational experience for students in the region.
Over the years, the Sto-Rox School District has faced various challenges common to urban school districts, including changing demographics, economic shifts, and educational reforms. The district has served a diverse student population and has worked to provide educational opportunities that address the needs of its community.
Community. That's it. We Sto-Rox Vikings take pride in our community. Even if we no longer reside in the area, we all will forever be Sto-Rox Vikings.
I've cheered for our girls' varsity basketball team through their PIAA playoff games and our football team to WPIAL championship.
That supportive spirit I had as a teenager lives in me still today.
Helping my community
It was no surprise when I was approached by Commander Edward P. Carter III of VFW Post 418 in McKees Rocks about helping my community that I would say yes. His father was commander of the Post 1978-79. Eddie just took command of the Post in July 2023...he hit the ground running helping his community.
He mentioned he read my blogs and saw the delicious food I made. Perhaps I'd be able to give a few hours to make a dinner for the Sto-Rox Viking Football team as they prepared for their weeklong camp. Fifty people total. Would I be interested?
Questions started through my mind? What would I make? What's the budget? What would I make? Could I pull this off? Would my food be good enough? What would I make?? What if they don't eat it? What would I make?
I simmered on the idea for a few days then returned a text to the Commander asking who else was making food for the team? He mentioned he was able to secure one organization for one evening meal but needed to cover all of the lunches and three days of dinners still.
Before I knew it I was texting "I'll do all the lunches and the three days needed for dinner".
What in the hell did I just do?
You went and done it now, Carol Ann. My imposter syndrome kicked in. Holy smokes! Can I pull this off??
Breaking down the task
Methodically I began planning my menus. I wanted a combination of elegance, balance, and emotional depth (all great cooking starts with love). Comfort food that athletes could refuel on. Not just ordinary, elevated – but on a strict budget.
I approached the process like everything else in my life with balance, clarity and logical progression.
My food needed to have harmonic language yet be sophisticated, blending both conventional budgetary constraints (chicken thighs and ground beef) (thank you all who donated money, time and food) with unexpected modulations (garnished food for presentation and finishing oils, acids and salts).
Just because these are kids does not mean I needed to just put out a fist full of bread and a hunk of Velveeta, I wanted to make it special.
I envisioned the food as a blend of melodic beauty, intricate harmonies, and impeccable craftsmanship. I was going to have to bring my A-game.
T minus 7 days...
I met with the Commander and Head Football Coach Marvin Mills to go over the budget and menu. Donations were flying in (my community really does come together when needed).. Dietary and religious restrictions were taken into consideration. We planned a healthy, refueling and rehydrating menu.
What do teenagers eat? How do we get them to eat it? Or even try something they may have never tried before? All while being nutritionally packed to refuel and rehydrate. That was going to be the challenge.
Beef Tacos with all the fixings - cheese, diced tomatoes, sour cream, salsa
Choose to make any of the following.
Fresh fruit salad
Grilled and baked chicken thighs
Cuban black beans
Homemade, fresh-pressed tortillas
House salad with homemade croutons
Fresh fruit salad
Penne pasta with homemade tomato sauce
Freshly prepared homemade meatballs
House salad with homemade croutons
Mancini round rolls with butter
Micro Caprese salad
Fresh fruit salad
Lunches every day
Ham/turkey and cheese sandwiches on Italian bread (thanks to Bimbo Bakery)
Fresh fixings – tomato, leaf lettuce, sliced onion
They say you eat with your eyes first... so that is where I started. Make the basics – then elevate them!
I had my work cut out.
T minus 4 days…
From the menu, make a list of needed items.
T minus 3 days…
Make a daily to-do list.
The unsung heroes of the week: The importance of great kitchen staff
You're only as good as your weakest link, they say. I must admit there was not one weak link in the team that helped bring this all to fruition.
Behind the scenes of every extraordinary dish stands a team of kitchen staff whose dedication, skill, and passion shape every aspect of the culinary journey. Even if it's just serving meals to teenagers.
Seamless workflows, impeccable cleanliness and everything washed and back in its rightful place in the kitchen are their contributions as unsung heroes; these melodies help complete the symphony of a successful kitchen. A debt of gratitude is owed to these men and women – the kitchen crew- who worked tirelessly to turn every meal into a masterpiece.
My kitchen crew is better than your kitchen crew.
Special thanks to Marlo Vena, VFW Commander Eddie Carter, Chris Stys, Anita DeFratti, Chrissy Carter-Rust, Margaret "Peggy" Vith-Mullen, Lynne Sarrick-Deliman, Darrell Jackson and Sonja Reis.
Thank you so much for helping bring this menu to life!
Now put on some tunes, turn up the speaker, and let's get to work.
The next time you enjoy a sumptuous meal at your favorite restaurant, take a moment to appreciate the exceptional kitchen staff whose efforts and perfectionism makes it all possible.