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3

The New Year began with a chasing out of the old and a reckoning of what was to come. For Lucy, this meant brunch on January 2. It was raw and barely snowing in Richmond. She had followed her Aunt Kay's advice and had invited friends to drop by. Scarpetta was still visiting her mother in Miami, and therefore was not present either to supervise or indulge in her niece's culinary talents.

"Who wants eggs?" Lucy asked her visitors, all from various federal law enforcement agencies.

"What kind?"

"Chicken eggs," said Lucy.

"Very funny."

"Scrambled," Lucy told the truth.

"Okay."

"I thought you were making Bloody Marys," said an FBI agent whose fourth transfer had brought her to the Washington Field Office in our nation's capital, where it was not possible to catch up with crime.

"What about bacon?" Lucy asked.

She was in her aunt's kitchen, with all of its stainless steel appliances and overhead copper racks of Calphalon pots and pans. Lucy was busy snatching eggs, bacon, milk, English muffins, and jars of V-8 juice out of the refrigerator. A fire was lit in the great room, and snow was scattered, small, crazed, and cold beneath a thick gray sky. It wasn't likely Lucy and her friends were going anywhere this day. Lucy was a bold and physical get-out-of-my-way kind of cook. Her recipes had never been written down and tended to change as she did.

Lucy's Bloody Marys

Start by getting out a large glass pitcher. Fill with as much V-8 juice as the crowd demands. Juice whole lemons and limes (this morning she used two of each and included the pulp), and add several tablespoons of the freshest horseradish you can find. Dash Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Get out the salt if you want. But don't forget vodka. In a perfect world, Skyy, Ketel One, or Belvedere are Lucy's preferences. But Stolichnaya or Absolut are good, and frankly, with all this seasoning, you can use just about anything. Keep vodka and glasses in the freezer.

Stir well and chill in the refrigerator. Lucy garnishes her drinks with a stalk of tender celery and two large green olives and a wedge of lemon skewered on a toothpick. She never uses ice because it dilutes, resulting in a weak, rather disgusting looking Bloody Mary. It is better not to drink too many of these before you fire up the grill and begin cooking.

Lucy's Friendly Grill

Mix eggs, milk, salt, and pepper, to taste. Whip until frothy. Heat up the grill. Scarpetta avoids propane gas, preferring charcoal for reasons of safety and flavor. Pour egg mixture into a simple cake pan lightly coated with oil or whatever serves the same purpose. Place the pan, strips of thick bacon, and English muffins on an upper rack of the grill. Cover with the lid to smoke. You will have to rearrange and turn the bacon fairly often, as the grease will drip and flame (adding to the flavor if you don't let matters get out of hand). Cook until obviously done. Remove and pat bacon free of grease. Serve immediately.

After eating, clean up right away because later you won't feel like it. Keep the fire going, and perhaps the snow will begin to stick and neighborhood children will come out to play. You can watch them through the window and remember when you were that age and praying there would be no school the next day. Hopefully, you have friends over, too. Tell them they can't go anywhere because of the weather. Talk all day. Share stories and dreams, and keep the cold away.

Lucy's friends decided they were snowed in and it would be wise to stay over. It was a perfect night indeed for one of Scarpetta's soups. She keeps a good supply in her freezer, because it is her efficient tendency to cook great vats of soup at once. Lucy scanned freezer shelves of containers precisely labeled and properly sealed.

"You guys hungry?" she called out to her buddies.

Stretched out in the great room, made sleepy by the fire, they were in the midst of recounting embarrassing moments they had endured during their new agent days at their respective law enforcement academies.

"Starved!"

"Shit, you can't be. You've been eating all day."

"I have not."

"Then where did all the Triscuits go? And the Vermont cheddar? And the peanuts?"

"Anyway, like I was saying, here I was firing away on the range, cartridge cases flying everywhere, and one of them goes down the front of my shirt. And you know how hot they are."

"Ouch!"

"I started jumping around, trying to shake it out."

"Not a good thing when you've got a loaded gun in your hand."

"How 'bout something light with chicken?" Lucy called out.

That was fine with everyone.

Scarpetta's Wholesome Chicken Soup

Drip several teaspoons of extra, extra virgin olive oil into a pot that is big enough to accommodate the volume of soup you wish to make. Scarpetta tends to use pots that hold at least sixteen quarts. Place skinless, boneless chicken breasts on a cutting board. Do not use wooden cutting boards because they are more difficult to clean and can harbor salmonella and its mutants. She prefers ceramic or hard plastic. Dice chicken with a very sharp knife, keeping fingers well out of the way of the blade.

Turn burner on medium. Drop chicken into the pot to brown. Next, dice the mildest onions you can find. She always uses.Vidalia onions when they are available, but she does not overwhelm this delicate soup with them. Other vegetables that usually go into this healthy dish include celery, carrots, fresh sliced mushrooms, red bell peppers, and chopped fresh spinach. Next, pour in at least four cans of fat free chicken broth.

Season with a generous number of bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for several hours, tasting now and then to fine-tune the seasoning. Scarpetta often adds a splash or two of sherry, and typically serves the soup in deep earthenware bowls.

Homemade sourdough or multigrain bread is a nice companion to this meal.

If you wish to make the soup heartier, you can add rice or risotto, or her favorite, conchiglie.

She recommends a light-bodied white wine, unless, of course, her motivation for serving you soup is that your digestive system is irritable or you are recovering from a cold or the flu. Then alcohol is taboo because it compromises the immune system, lowering one's defenses rather much as it does in all other situations in life. Assuming wine is not unwise, her choices are Chablis or Pinot Grigio. If you are in the mood for a slightly fuller bodied wine, a dry Chardonnay such as Cakebread or Sonoma-Cutrer is a fine idea.


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