Full Belly Files | Fettuccine Alfredo and My First Colonoscopy

Even the most basic versions of fettuccine alfredo provide both comfort and calories that pair perfectly with your colonoscopy prep. | Credit: Engin Akyurt / Pexels

Last week, as my 45-year-old body prepared for its first colonoscopy, I briefly rekindled a childhood love for fettuccine alfredo, and then quickly remembered why I never eat it anymore.

If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, the procedure, which only takes about 20 actual minutes of painless probing, is really a 36-hour affair. It starts with eating a “white diet” the morning before, so as to not stain your insides, and shifts to fluids only by that afternoon as you guzzle gallons of laxative-laced water to properly rinse your innards.

During my preparatory phone call with the nurse a few days earlier — her primary duty appeared to be convincing reluctant people that this process wasn’t so bad after all, despite what we’ve been told — she explained in a very cheery voice almost every single thing that I could eat. I’d already called up the website she was paraphrasing — “You can have eggs, even the yellow yolks, and plain white bread chicken breast without the skin and cottage cheese and….” — so I was sort of zoning out until her pitch picked up a bit.

“Fettuccine alfredo!” she said with glee. “You can even eat fettuccine alfredo!”

As a kid, fettuccine alfredo was my first fancy food, the one dish that I could confidently order in upscale settings that wouldn’t cause the waiter or nearby adults to bat an eye. (They might even order it too.) Like a slightly grown-up version of mac ’n’ cheese, it was creamy, rich, and comforting, rarely diverting from the accepted formula no matter where you ate, and often came with grilled chicken breast, another reliable choice for picky young palates.

I grew out of the dish by the end of college, curious about more complex flavors and concerned about the caloric load of a plate based almost entirely on cream, cheese, and pasta. At that point, my carb count was being sufficiently sated — and then some — by steady ale consumption, and, in the cyclical nature of dining trends, big plates of rich noodles were falling out of vogue. (RIP Palazzio.)

But when the nurse exclaimed “fettuccine alfredo!” — which, coincidentally, my kids had been asking about recently — something clicked in my mind. Maybe it was a forgotten comfort of childhood counteracting the upcoming investigation of my mortality, or maybe it was just the notion that I had to eat something that would fill me up for the next 20 hours. But whatever the reason, I’d determined that the silver lining of getting a camera slipped up my rear end would be a preparatory plate of fettuccine alfredo.

My plan on Sunday morning was to make the pasta myself, but the upcoming bowel purge somehow spread into the rest of my life, triggering an intense clean-out session of our overstuffed garage. (Anyone need cracked sand buckets, ancient golf clubs, or an arsenal of Nerf guns?) With my cooking plans usurped and the clock ticking toward my white-diet deadline of 2 p.m., I called in an order of fettuccine alfredo to The Nugget on Calle Real, just a mile or so from my house.

Fifteen minutes later, I was ferociously tucking into the thick, soupy, lush mess of sauce and noodles and chicken chunks, right out of the to-go box. Certainly, skilled chefs can elevate fettuccine alfredo — which was invented in the early 20th century by a Roman man named Alfredo Di Lelio — to the most gourmet of expressions, but The Nugget’s version was exactly as I remembered. The flavors, texture, and cozy warmth were strikingly familiar, like I’d been dropped into my 12-year-old self at Villa Felice in Los Gatos or Original Joe’s in downtown San Jose.   

And so was the stomach-stuffing effect, reminding me of why I’d ditched my alfredo habit as I slurped down that last milky noodle. I felt like a cream blob, heavy, full, and motivated solely to sit on the couch and digest.

As you know from my previous epicurean indulgences, I’m not opposed to eating rich foods. But there’s no reason to waste all that chewing and all those calories on such a simplistic trick of a dish that merely combines basic pasta with too much cream and lots of mass-produced cheese. It’s like cheap culinary pornography, playing to our evolved cravings for fat and carbohydrates without requiring any nuance at all. (And this is no knock on The Nugget — their version nails the accepted American formula perfectly.)  

Of course, for the sake of stuffing my stomach to cover three meals, fettuccine alfredo was the right choice. After loading up on the gut-cleansing gallons of watery medicine — which was not as disgusting as advertised, though the volume of liquid ingested gets a touch tedious — I easily survived on spiced chicken broth and Gatorade until after my appointment the next morning.   

My colon, thankfully, was spic-and-span, and the examination to determine as much was quite uneventful, even mildly entertaining. (Drugs were involved.)

As to why I ever thought that people who subscribe to a food and drink newsletter would want to read about the details surrounding my first colonoscopy? You can thank my buddy, Dr. Drew. No, not that Dr. Drew, but a good friend from high school and college who also endured his inaugural colonoscopy this week.

“I think that the fact that you are live-texting your prep makes for automatic Full Belly Files material, almost like Empty Colon Files,” he wrote on our group chat. When I expressed fear about turning this into something that wasn’t too gross for mass consumption, the good doc encouraged me further, writing, “I think awareness about cancer screening is always important.”

In other words, go get your colon checked. You can thank Dr. Drew.

And if you’re doing it in 2033, you may just see me lining up for my next serving of fettuccine alfredo.

Sea Smoke Celebration

The Sea Smoke vertical tasting | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Last week, Sea Smoke invited about a dozen sommeliers and wine writers from around California and beyond to the Ojai Valley Inn to celebrate two decades of successfully elevating Sta. Rita Hills pinot noir into the upper stratosphere of the fine wine world. It was an affair that they first planned for April 2020, and then had to scrap multiple times because of COVID. Just checking in for the first night felt like a victory for all involved, no less because my wife and I dined very well on fabulous Burmese food at The Dutchess prior to arrival.

The next day, in between lunch at The Oak (accompanied by wines from Burgundy) and dinner at Olivella (truffle risotto and much more paired with magnums of Sea Smoke), we tasted a flight each of the Southing and Ten pinot noirs, grown on the south-facing slopes north of the Santa Ynez River between Buellton and Lompoc. The opportunity was even more exclusive than we imagined. “Only one time in 20 years have we ever done a vertical internally, and we’ve never taken it on the road,” said Victor Gallegos, who’s managed Sea Smoke since 2002.

Sea Smoke’s new Grand pinot noir, a cool $400 (left) and the Sea Smoke Southing at the Ojai Valley Inn | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The Southing flight went all the way back to the first commercial vintage of 2001, which was still very much alive and pumping with acidity, through the bright and juicy styles of 2019 and 2020. The Tens, which are more robust in style, went back to 2006, and followed along with the 2009, 2012, and 2014s of the Southing flight. While all were impressed with the stability of the older wines and the freshness of the new ones, the 2014s appeared most seamless and cohesive at this moment. “For us, it’s about seven years,” said Gallegos of the optimum drinking window.   

From left, Sea Smoke’s Victor Gallegos, Patton Penhallegon, and Don Schroeder | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The tasting was a refreshingly casual affair, with no scripted presentation or slideshow, just an engaging, occasionally emotional conversation led by Gallegos and Sea Smoke winemaker Don Schroeder, who’s been involved since the beginning. They discussed their meticulous practice of personally tasting every single barrel of their 20,000-case annual production to delineate the pinot noir, chardonnay, and sparkling lots, and spoke of a constant quest for improvement. Said Gallegos, “The wine business is littered with corpses of people who thought they got it right, and never changed.”

During dinner, they revealed a new bottling called “Grand,” which comes from top pinot barrels and then spends five years aging in the bottle. The 2016 is the inaugural release, with a $400 price tag, and it was rather stunning, combining the elegance of Southing with the power of Ten. They made less than 32 cases, so even if you have that kind of coin to drop on wine, good luck tracking that one down. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

From Our Table

Satellite owner Drew Cuddy (left) and Lindsey Reed | Credit: Adrian Dentzel

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