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An Atavistic Response [moved from Home Cooking board]

  • roxlet Oct 10, 2011 09:19 AM

My son was studying words for an English quiz, and atavistic was among them. I said, "So, here's an example: when I have to make dinner, the first thing I think about is pasta. That's an atavistic response." Pasta is my default setting, it's what we had growing up about 5 times a week, including soup and first courses of things like pasta with peas, pasta with cici, pasta fagioli, spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, lasagna, etc., etc.

What's your atavistic cooking response? Do you turn to a meal that was one you grew up with more often than not?

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  1. The pasta response is atavistic behavior for me too, and it was what I ate a great amount of growing up. Default setting, absolutely.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      Same here. Three Italian girls in a row with the same response, not surprising, eh? :) Ziti with meatballs (kinda funny ziti seems less vogue in the world of shapes now), broccoli 'n elbows, stuffed shells, manicotti, linguini with clam sauce...and pastina and acini di pepe for soup always, always--then and now!

    2. Thanks for the new vocab, roxlet. :)

      My atavistic response is generally to get sweet, hot/spicy, sour, and salty (but not too salty) on the table together by whatever means.

      1. I go to meatballs and spaghetti, lasagna and meatloaf.
        Not exactly in line with the above, a baked chicken is also so easy I could do it with my eyes closed by now.

        1. Hmm .. I'd have to say my 1st inclination is to bring to mind what we had last night, so that I don't make the same thing again.

          My childhood meals were rarely pasta -- we had meat/potatoes/vegetable. Spaghetti was special!

          1 Reply
          1. re: blue room

            We had the same but spaghetti came out of a can. Chili with minute rice was special and the first thing I learned to cook on my own,

          2. Hot (spicy).

            I didn't grow up with that on a regular basis — it was an infrequent treat punctuated by ventures to Thai and Ethiopian restaurants. And Mom's massive yield of habaneros one summer helped the transformation.

            A college friend would bring her dad's homemade salsa from home. She and I'd sit and eat it by the spoonful, while our roommates looked on in wonder.

            1. Another pastatavist here. When I was going through a "Fish and Nothing But Fish" phase this summer, I kept having to go to the store every day. I thought it was purely because I wanted the fish to be the freshest, but it turns out I wasn't keeping pasta in the house, so I wasn't able to get atavistic about it. I had nothing in the house to eat (I'm not a freeze-er).

              I ordered some De Cecco from amazon, and all was well in the world. I just have to set my dial not eat too much of it.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Jay F

                De Cecco's my pasta of choice, too! And pastatavist--funny! We can form our own society...and requisite fitness club, HA HA! :)

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  You know, katty, you can really save a buck or two on De Cecco pasta if you buy it on amazon.com using their Subscribe & Save service. I just got 5 1# boxes of capellini for $10.23, or $2.05 a box. I think it costs $2.50 or $3.00 at Whole Foods or my local emporio Italiano.

                  I'm pastatavisting today. I'm making my variation on Marcella's Bolognese to rid my brain and tastebuds of the one that was so grosso from Splendid Table last week.

                  1. re: Jay F

                    Thanks for the tip, Jay. I'll pay attention next time De Cecco's on sale at Stop & Shop to see if I can beat that price. I want to say I pick it up for that or less on sale, but now I can't recall for sure. When it IS on sale, I make a beeline for their capellini, too. Capellini with parsley sauce...Zuppa de Clams Casino alla Speranza (that one's straight outta my bacon-lovin' brain). Mmmm, Bolognese! Keep on pastatavising!

                    1. re: kattyeyes

                      You're killing me...

                      1. re: kattyeyes

                        Alla Speranza. It's even fun to say, and I've recently started eating clams again.

                        EDIT: I just googled "clams casino alla speranza" and found this: http://kattyskitchen.wordpress.com/20...

                        You're this Katty, aren't you? This recipe looks so good, I have to try it.

                        1. re: Jay F

                          Yes, I am! >>^..^<< Thank you--I hope you enjoy it!

                  2. re: Jay F

                    kattyeyes is right -- great turn of phrase!

                    1. re: roxlet

                      Thanks to both of you. I'm in the act right now, making Bolognese. And I can tell it's going to be a good batch. I may roll my own tomorrow, though I just got five pounds of capellini.

                      My father, in New Jersey, had a next-door neighbor who was Italian. During the depression and WWII, they had a garden in their combined back yards, where he grew tomatoes and basil, and other things that were easier to buy by the time I was born (he always grew tomatoes and herbs, though).

                      As I was growing up, one of his favorite things was to pay Lina to make baked ziti and other pasta dishes for us (my mother hated to cook at the time). So I feel as if I'm Italian by appetite, even though it's one of the few Western European nationalities that aren't a part of me.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        I caught the opening of "The Chew" today. Not sure if it always starts this way or not, but, Batali says (paraphrasing here), "I'm Mario Batali. There are two kinds of people. Those who ARE Italian and those who wish they were Italian." :) It's only a quarter of my heritage, but what I identify most strongly with and how I grew up for sure. CENT'ANNI!

                        1. re: kattyeyes

                          That's what my father always used to say. But then he'd say to his friends, who used to tease him by saying that Sicilians were strong African swimmers, "There are two kinds of Italians -- Sicilians, and those who wish they were Sicilians." Patently not true when in Italy, but so sweet nonetheless!

                  3. That your immediate response is food: that is atavistic!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: nomadchowwoman

                      Very clever, nomadchowwoman! You're right!

                    2. For me, it was meat paired with a starch, frequently as soup or stew of some kind. I grew up in a meat and potatoes house, but what I always loved, and craved, the most were the types of dishes my mother made infrequently: chicken soup, or with dumplings, beef stew, etc. As an adult, those dishes became my default.

                      Meat was always center stage in those simmering pots, and it was very difficult to give it up, and reframe that urge, especially since vegetable soups usually fail to excite me. My response has now been shifted to other forms of protein, with eggs coming in first, and black beans frequently making an appearance as well. Eggs and black beans do seem to be a weirdly natural progression from chicken and beef, in my mind.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: onceadaylily

                        Yes, meat and starch: chicken and dumplings first, chicken and noodles if dumplings are too much trouble (ours were always the drop-biscuit kind, fluffy and fat-laden). Then some compound, any compound, of ground meat, tomato and pasta, with cheese in there somewhere: spaghetti, Marietta, lasagna, ravioli. I've never had pastitzio, but I'm just waiting for the right combination of weather, time, and a bit more weight loss …

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          Pastitzio is worth a bucket of sweat, Will. A custardy meat layer, seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg . . . you're killing me.

                          1. re: onceadaylily

                            I don't even particularly like cinnamon, but I'm diggin' this. At least reading the recipe. And when I react to a recipe like that my instincts are usually on the money.

                      2. mine is some kind of green sautéed with garlic, olive oil, and red chili flakes with cannelloni beans tossed in at the end. My favorites are neon chard and rapine. Kind of an odd atavistic response, but it's what I crave...

                        1. Italian boy here, getting in pasta line. Pasta ceci, pasta lenticchie, piselli, etc--plus minestre of escarole and white beans, ziti (yes!) with anything.

                          1. Something a little different to all the pasta responses (though growing up that or schnitzel were Dad's atavistic responses!): I tend to go with protein + big plate of steamed broccoli and capsicum as my default. For some reason I tend to crave this lots and it's an easy meal to make.

                            1. My mother, and her mother before, cooked most meals in a meat-and-two plan. A piece of meat cooked separately from a green veg and a starch. When I'm not feeling creative, I find myself going to that same formula. While my mother started mixing it up here and there, I can guarantee my grandmother never did. I can't eat the same stuff over and over, so I tend to stray from this, but I do go with it often enough.

                              1. To me, "atavistic" doth harken back deeper
                                when eyebrows were fuller, and jaws jutted downward
                                and grunts were the word of the day.

                                So, charred meats on the fire
                                and some tubers cooked in embers.

                                And for boiling, we dug a hole in the ground
                                and lined it with hides, filled it with water,
                                and dropped in hot rocks to give us a simmer.

                                These are the things only atavistically remembered.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                  Well put, my friend (though I may have tapped into the raw, warm flesh craving).

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    I Ignored much of gnaw our ancestors endured.
                                    (even today we put teeth to the bone)

                                    There is pulse of remembrance
                                    of those folks of the caves.

                                2. Hmm, my immediate response to the OP was not in the line taken by the OP and the majority of the posters...and thought the example of going for pasta, as an example, was a bit of a stretch. Just my thoughts. Yes, the "reverting to pasta" (or meat-and-potatoes/meat-and-a-starch) was a reverting to one's personal "default" setting - but to me it doesn't seem to reach quite what is implied by "atavism". To me, reverting to what one grew up with or knew from childhood doesn't quite suggest an "atavistic" response. It suggests, to me, a "default childhood" response.

                                  Food Fuser's post (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8115...) is the sort of thing that comes to mind when I read the word "atavistic", especially with regards to what kind of food would be an atavistic response. A better example - to me - in this age would be a Vegan suddenly gorging down a meal of rare steak or, better, Pittsburged steak (if not raw).

                                  ((shrug)) YMMV.

                                  http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&am...
                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atavism
                                  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/atav...
                                  http://bitbucket.icaap.org/dict.pl?al...
                                  http://www.oup.com/uk/orc/bin/9780199...
                                  http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/e...
                                  http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/hhecht/li%20...
                                  etc.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: huiray

                                    Thank you for doing all the heavy lifting with the dictionary.
                                    My usage would be based on the third definition in thefreedictionary.com
                                    3. The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a period of absence.
                                    I also like this definition from bitbucket:
                                    to resemble one's grandparents or great-grandparents more than parents
                                    I was using it ironically and colloquially.
                                    I bet you wish you were in school now! How easy would all those pesky term paper footnotes be with the internet?

                                    1. re: roxlet

                                      You're welcome.

                                      Yes, if one were in school nowadays the internet would be a boon.

                                      During my day there was a physical object one consulted called a dictionary, comprised of leaves of printed paper bound between two hard covers with a spine. Oh, there were also buildings each with a name that comprised a word that was spelled L-I-B-R-A-R-Y. ;-)

                                  2. Atavism.

                                    I growl and I grunt from the well dug out fire pit.

                                    There is feasting tonight, as I roast today's kill.

                                    The small tribe has gathered, laughing and beating their drums,
                                    knowing that soon there will be grease on their face
                                    and gnawed gulps of good meat in their belly.

                                    This is way before pasta
                                    This is uncounted drumbeats
                                    This is the feeding of clan.