My (larger than life) Aunt Marge, and a Mushroom Pate that reminds me of her.

I have been wanting for some time to sit and write about my Aunt Marge. However, I found it just too hard. My Aunt Marge was an extraordinary person. When she passed late last year my heart was broken and it was all too personal for me.  You see she was more than a great aunt to me, more like an anchor to the whole family. My Aunt Marge alone was a source of support and stability to all her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren and more. She was the oldest of my father’s Aunts and Uncles and a step-sister to my grandfather. My Great Aunt Marge, just the way I will always remember her...smiling!

If there was ever a moment in my life that I can reflect on growing up, My Aunt Marge and my Uncle Jimmy (her husband) were there. I can still clearly remember nursery rhymes she sang to us. There were trips to the mall, dancing school recitals, school plays, graduations, religious ceremonies, getting ready for the prom, going to college, my wedding day – my Aunt Marge was there for it all. I can remember when I was in grade school my parents went away for a week and my Aunt Marge asked if she and my Uncle Jimmy could watch us. She was so happy having us there. She helped us with our homework and then let us watches whatever we wanted on TV. I can remember my sister whispering to me “Danielle, she is not cooking anything. When are we going to eat dinner?” I looked at my aunt and asked “Aunt Marge, when will we eat dinner?” She responded with “Just tell me when you’re hungry and what you want and it is yours!”  As it turns out she prepared and stocked the refrigerator with some of my and my sister’s favorite meals. She let us pick what we wanted and heated it up. She also let us watch TV while we ate! My sister looked at me and said, “We never get to do this at home!” The whole time was such a treat.

My Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy (circa 1980's) I wish it was a better picture but it is one of the only ones I have of them.

In the past year I continually remembered things she did or said. It is funny how that happens. Even after she is gone it is like she is still here in my presence. I finished a book not too long ago that I really enjoyed, as I closed the book I could hear her voice: “Reading is a great way to use your imagination, it can take you anywhere!” I was slicing a loaf of bread one day in my kitchen and it was like she was right there. I could hear her saying, “Eat the heel of the bread and you will get pretty, curly hair Danielle.” (An old wives tail she always expressed and quite possibly why I have more curls today than I ever did.) I turned on the TV the other day and Little Women was on. I instantly thought of my Aunt Marge, she once asked if I ever read the book and when I said no she returned a week later with a copy of the book for me. “I think you will enjoy this, every girl should read it!”

My Aunt Marge was intelligent beyond her schooling. She could pull up facts, dates, times, names, anything – all within the snap of a finger. It fascinated all who encountered her. She was always up on current events, women’s rights, politics, small town issues, popular culture, and slang terms. In some ways I always felt she was a head of her time, and wise beyond her years. The other day I was cooking mushrooms in my kitchen and I thought of her. I was making a Mushroom Pate and I thought, “I wish she was here, I think she would love this dish.” When Brian and I sat at the dinner table to enjoy it I dipped into the Pate I could hear her voice. “Do you believe in double dipping?” Aunt Marge was the one to introduce the term to me (long before it was mentioned on a Seinfeld episode). We were in my parent’s living room and my mom put out a platter of raw vegetables and dip. I can remember my mom looking at me and saying “You always are on top of new topics Aunt Marge.”

Mushroom Pate, and resisting to double dip.

So there you have it. Aunt Marge was a head of her time - inspiring, and a huge influence on my life. But I don’t look at it like she is gone. I mean I just have to see a movie, read a book, cook something, or eat something and it is like she is right there again. She was one of a kind, and we all have been fortunate to have her as a part of our family. In fact, I find this mushroom pate a lot like my Aunt. The pate is tender, savory, a hint of sweetness, easy going while being elegant, and memorable. I told Brian some of my Aunt Marge memories while we ate and he smiled. She really was a special lady! Aunt Marge, thank you for everything, you are always on our mind and in my kitchen.

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Mushroom Pate (feeds 6)

*I made this pate often when catering. It is always a crowd pleaser. The pate is rich in flavor and shocking to most that it is vegan as well. The balsamic reduction always makes people stop and ask what it is as it gives it a glistening black glaze covering it. It is great for a casual gathering or fancy enough for a holiday table.

4 cups of trimmed and sliced Crimini mushrooms

2 cups of onion, chopped small

Olive oil (at least ¼ cup)

¼ cup of brandy

2 cups of basil leaves

¼ cup of chives, roughly chopped

¾ cup pf pistachios

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

¾ cup of balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp of sugar

Bread, Italian or baguette, sliced (and toasted if you like)

First, place your pistachios in a small pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Place it over medium heat and bring it all to a simmer. You are looking for the nuts to become fork tender. It will take about 20 – 30 minutes depending on the nuts. Drain off the water when the nuts are ready and set aside.

Sauted mushrooms and onions.

Next, place a large (12 inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Once it is heated through pour about 3 tbsp of olive oil into it. Place the onions and mushrooms in the pan and let men sizzle and simmer, stirring it all often. Keep an eye on the pan as you do not want it to have your mushrooms and onions stick or start to burn. If they stick you can add a tiny bit more of olive oil at a time. Once the onions start to turn translucent you can add a bit of sea salt and black pepper to it all. Once the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender and golden you can add the brandy. Let it all simmer until all the brandy is absorbed and cooked down to barely enough liquid to coat the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside until cooled.

Meanwhile, place you balsamic vinegar on a small pan with the sugar and give it a stir. Place it all over a medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keeping an eye on it, you want it to reduce by half and no more. Once it is reduced remove it from the heat and set aside.

Then, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment; place your pistachios. Pulse the nuts until they are a past.  To this add your basil and chives and pulse your mixture until the herbs are chopped well into the nuts.  Once herbs are chopped add in your mushrooms and onions and puree until it is all a smooth paste like mixture. If the mixture is stiff you can add a bit of olive oil (no more than 1-2 tbsp) to help loose it up to be a smooth paste.  Season it with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

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Finally, place your nut and mushroom mixture in a serving dish or crock. Spread it out evenly pressing it into the dish. Over the top pour the balsamic reduction you made. You are looking for the reduction the coat the top evenly. I like to tilt my dish back and forth to be sure it is even. Cove the dish and chill for at least an hour before serving. Serve with sliced crusty bread and extra herbs you may have as a garnish.