Frank at Tank 7 & Caramel Peanut Brownies

Hello friends, it’s Hannah.  Today we’re going to talk about something that has nothing to do with the (dangerously) delicious brownie recipe I’m going to give you.  I think I’ve mentioned before how transitions aren’t my strong suit, and today, barring a serious stroke of genius, I won’t even try.  But I want to talk about something that’s pretty unique, and I can’t pass up this opportunity.

About 2 weeks ago, my med school class of 238 took our last anatomy exam.  We haven’t slipped on our baggy scrubs since then; we haven’t awkwardly scratched our noses or faces with our shoulders, avoiding at all costs the dreaded dirty-glove-to-skin contact.  It has been an intense, whirlwind path from August 22nd until the end of this semester.  Gross anatomy is classic medical school.  Just like 80% of our experiences in the next 4 years, we were given little time to adjust to such a foreign situation.  We were plunged head first (though, not literally, because that would be yucky) into a novel experience with little more than the instructions, “Start with a midline incision running from the external occipital protuberance to the spinous process of L4…”  Ok.  Sure.  Just…you know…ignore the fact that roughly 20% of the bodies in the room are dead and…go.

At first, I was actually shocked by how easy it was to only focus on the dissection.  We struggled so much with things that are now more simple to us – distinguishing arteries from nerves, knowing how deep to cut, deciding when to keep searching for something and when to give up – that there was little time to think about anything else while in lab.  At some point though, we decided we needed a name for our cadaver.  The only information we’re given is their age at time of death and the cause of death.  Gus, as we came to call him, passed away because of a heart attack.  During our 3rd or 4th week of lab, we began our head and face dissections.  We pulled back the cloth that covered Gus’s head, and we met him face to face for the first time.

It was strange.  How could it not be strange?  But by that point, we had already wondered enough about Gus’s life – from his job (at one point a postman, but most often a distinguished driver in the UK – as implausible as that was) to his family.  For me, it was kind of a relief to finally “meet” this person we had been spending so much of our time with.

Fast forward to last week, when we had our memorial service for the people who had donated their bodies so that we could learn from them.  There are a lot of things that different grad schools have in common: long hours in the library, late nights, massive laundry piles, even lab work.  But a candlelight memorial service for your cadaver is unique to the heath professions.  We changed out of our exam-time sweats and tshirts, put on our white coats, and gathered to pay our respects.

These individuals gave us an incredible gift.  They were the first patients we laid our hands on as medical students, in an attempt to discover something about the human body.  They are the reason that so many of us were excited to come to school everyday, because we knew we would be seeing a spinal cord or holding a heart that day.  As some of my classmates said, we still don’t know very much about the lives of our cadavers, but we know them in a way that many people in their lives never did.  I know that Gus – who I learned was named Frank, and he was a nurse – had well-defined leg muscles and strong bones that didn’t give easily when we needed them to.  His brachial plexus (an important tangle of nerves in your chest and armpit) was a thing of beauty, so clearly defined and textbook-perfect.

What I know for certain about Frank’s life is that he was generous.  If he devoted his life to caring for others as a nurse, and devoted his death to teaching aspiring physicians, he was nothing if not giving.  I said goodbye to Frank as we finished our last dissection, as I wrapped up my lab final, and as I held my candle at the memorial service.  I thank him for assuring me that medicine is the right place for me by letting me discover some of the thrilling intricacies of the human body through him.  Frank was, as cliché as it may sound, my first patient and one of my greatest teachers to date.  I hope he knew how much of a help he was going to be to me and my fellow Tank 7 For Life-ers.  I think that would have made him happy.

Easy Peanut and Caramel “Knock You Naked” Brownies

Makes one 13×9 inch pan of brownies (can easily be halved for a 9×9 inch pan)

2 boxes German Chocolate cake mix (yes.  another cake mix recipe.  it’s the holidays.  stressful times.  you’re welcome.)
1 2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups salted roasted peanuts
about 90 individual caramels (I used Werther’s chewy caramels)
1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the middle position.  Grease a 13×9 inch glass pan and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, 2/3 cup evaporated milk, sour cream, and butter.  Mix until well combined.  Press half the mixture evenly into the prepared pan, and bake for about 10-12 minutes.  It doesn’t need to be baked through at this point.  Set the pan aside on a wire rack while you prepare the filling.
3. In a microwave safe bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and 1 cup evaporated milk.  Heat on high in 45 second intervals, stirring between intervals, until the caramels are evenly melted.  Pour the caramel over the brownies in the pan, making sure to spread it evenly.  Sprinkle the peanuts evenly over the caramel.

4. On a sheet of foil or wax paper, press out the remaining brownie batter to about the same size as the pan. (Mine was too thick to pour, so I had to shape it first.)  Transfer the brownie rectangle to the pan.  Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until dry and beginning to crack on top.  Let cool in pan on a wire rack to room temperature.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the brownies chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  This makes them much easier to cut and keeps the caramel from oozing out until the right moment.  Slice the brownies as desired, and before serving, dust them generously with powdered sugar.  Store the brownies, tightly wrapped, in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Thanks for reading, happy holidays and happy baking!



  1. Even before I met you, I knew you were an awesome young lady. I knew that because you and my daughter were friends – and she generally hangs out with pretty special people. So, that was like nine (yikes!) years ago and in that time you have only demonstrated again and again how on the mark that assessment was. Hannah, you are a remarkable young woman. Thank you for sharing the story of Frank; I may or may not make the brownies, they do look “delish” – but I will remember the awe and reverence with which you brought Frank’s gift to all of us long into the future.

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