Sometimes hospitality has to be delivered, in this case to Captain Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret. He is a wounded warrior at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I introduced him in a previous blog. He is 31, married to Sunny, was wounded in Iraq in 2005 and sustained traumatic brain injury. My colleague and friend at the Hearing Loss Association of America, Nancy Macklin, and I went to see Mark. We learned that when they reconstructed Mark’s skull after the accident, something to do with his temporal lobe affected his sense of taste. Sometimes he can’t taste food at all or it tastes weird. We found out, however, that he does like spicy foods and can actually taste them.
We also learned that Mark, being from Knoxville, Tennessee, has never had a Philly cheesesteak. How did the topic of cheesesteaks come up? Corpsman Stanley “Mac” Maculenicz (21), originally from south Philadelphia, told Mark all about the famous Philly cheesesteak. Mac accompanies Mark wherever he goes in the hospital. So when we visit Mark, Mac is usually nearby.
Mark, having sustained a hearing loss from his injury, at first thought we were talking about cheese cake. After we got that straightened out, Nancy and I left that day vowing to return with Philly cheesesteaks. After all, Mark had never had one, and Mac could use a taste of home.
Minced Steak But Not Minced Words
We picked up the cheesesteaks from a local establishment and went to Bethesda Naval, as it is commonly referred to. You need a GPS just to find your way to the right building let alone the wing, the floor, then the room. We navigated our way to Mark and Mac suggested an outdoor eating area near the “mess.” Mark hadn’t been outside in days and drew a big breath of fresh air.
Mark seemed really pleased when we presented him with a variety of hot sauces to put on his cheesesteaks. (Remember, he can sometimes taste spicy.) Mac looked skeptical. Nancy announced we got a variety of toppings on the cheesesteaks — one with onions and mushrooms, one with green peppers, etc. Take your pick.
Corpsman Mac said, “Cheese steaks never have green peppers.” But since Mark doesn’t like green peppers, he took that one (that’s the military for you, always sacrificing for the good of another!). Looking suspicious as he unwrapped the cheesesteak, Mac took a bite and began his critique:
“No, it’s all about the roll and this one is horrible!…too soft, not crunchy. It’s supposed to be an Amaroso roll; it should be somewhat crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Rubbing some meat between his fingers he said, “The meat shouldn’t be minced up like this, it should be sliced very thin, slivers. And, never this kind of cheese, it should be provolone or Cheez Whiz.”
“Cheez Whiz?” Now, Nancy is skeptical.
“Yes, and the whole thing should be about this big.” (He gestures.)
The sailor from South Philly hath spoken.
Mac is right, actually. A little digging on my part found out that any reputable cheesesteak purveyor will tell you the bread is paramount to a properly-made sandwich. And, any old roll won’t do it. No wonder Mac gave us a good tongue lashing about the roll. And about that Amaroso roll, Mac is right again. Amaroso’s Bakery is often considered the first name in cheesesteak rolls. And how about that Cheez Whiz? Yep! Mac has it all down and why should we have doubted him? He is from South Philly!
Nancy Macklin doesn’t let any occasion, large or small, go by without one of her homemade goods.This time she brought cupcakes for Mark and everyone on the TBI floor. She suggested that Mark quickly squirrel away a few for him and Sunny as they were going fast. (Sunny took the opportunity to go have her hair done. She is with Mark nearly all the time and stays in Fisher House while they are here.)
In my humble opinion, cupcakes can often be dry. A theory is that there is not enough space to hold the moisture in that little cup. In a whole cake, the moisture has a lot of room to stay and hang out.
Not so with Nancy’s cupcakes. She executes perfectly a cupcake that defies my unscientific theory. She makes the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes. From cake to frosting, these little cakes are melt-in-your-mouth goodness. And she lays the frosting on thick because it is not a goo of confection, it is perfectly sweet and light and you want a lot of it! The recipe is simple, but follow it to a T. And, unsalted butter is essential, don’t substitute. Your result will be perfection.
I’m thinking about using this recipe for the basis of a margarita or key lime cupcake. That will take some experimenting at a later date. For now, I give you Nancy’s recipe:
Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp of vanilla
Grease lightly and line muffin pans with liners. Cream butter until smooth; add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Combine flours and add in 4 parts alternating with milk and vanilla. Spoon into cups, ¾ full and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes or until top springs back. Makes 24 cupcakes.
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 8 cups confectioners’ sugar (2 boxes)
- ½ cup milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
Combine butter, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla; beat until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar one cup at a time until spreading consistency. Use and store at room temperature. You can store icing in airtight container for three days.
Nancy and I left (again needing a GPS to get out). We talked about Mac and how he and his wife Kelly are expecting their first baby soon. We talked about Mark and how brave and upbeat he is in light of the injury that changed his life — and how lucky we are to know him. And we talked about all those who give their lives so we can live in peace. I think we will be going back soon.