In the afternoon, Xiaocao had gone over to Madam Mao’s to buy two ducks. She let the duck blood flow into a small basin and used the duck offal to braise along with the pig intestines.
At this moment, the braised food had just finished cooking and the whole courtyard was enveloped in its tantalizing smell. As the emperor emeritus entered the residence, he forcefully breathed in the air and an intoxicated expression appeared on his face. He muttered to himself, “This is the exact smell! The only braised pig head meat that tastes authentic is the one that this little girl makes!”
When he saw the vermicelli drying in the courtyard, he guffawed heartily, “I knew that the little lass would be able to make it happen! Isn’t that right?! Girl, little girl! Add a ‘pork stewed with vermicelli’ to the table!!”
Yu Xiaocao came out of the kitchen to see the fuss and greeted both the Zhao Family members and the emperor emeritus. She then rolled her eyes at the person who had added another request, “Fifth Lord, if you can conjure up some pork right now, then I will make you some pork stewed with vermicelli!”
“Look at you, you’re claiming you’re poor in front of this lord!! Last time I gave you quite a bit of money for that recipe, don’t tell me you can’t afford to eat pork then? Hey! You’re becoming more and more gutsy nowadays, little girl, ah. You even dare to roll your eyes at this lord, eh?” Although the emperor emeritus wasn’t young anymore, his eyes and ears were still quite sharp. He naturally didn’t miss Xiaocao rolling her eyes at him.
By now, Yu Xiaocao already had a good idea of what the emperor emeritus’s personality was like. If he truly wanted to punish her for her transgressions, then she already would have been punished a billion times by now. She daringly made a funny face at the emperor emeritus and grinned provokingly, “How so? You’re old, so you must have been seeing things——the duck blood and vermicelli soup will soon be done. Fifth Lord, please sit down for now.”
Fang Zizhen was stunned silly by his adopted daughter’s reckless conduct. She was being impudent to the highest authority in the land, the emperor emeritus, who was known for being brutal and callous when needed. In order to preserve his adopted daughter’s life, he hurriedly pleaded for leniency, “Fifth Lord, this little girl doesn’t know the consequences of her actions. She’s still a child, please don’t lower yourself to her level.”
The emperor emeritus imitated Xiaocao’s conduct and rolled his eyes at Fang Zizhen, “Do you really need to butt in? For the sake of the duck blood and vermicelli soup, I’ll forgive you this time——cut a portion of the braised pig head meat and pig ears for now, and mix in some garlic paste too!!”
Yu Xiaocao was so busy in the kitchen that she couldn’t do much else, so Xiaolian took out the braised pig head, pig ear strips with chili oil, pig intestines with scallions, spicy and numbing pig tripe, stir-fried pig liver, and five-spiced spicy duck to the guests. Every dish was piled high and there was even enough for the imperial guards to eat too. As for the court eunuch who brought the imperial decree, Zhang Quan, he had been ordered back to the capital by the emperor emeritus after lunch.
Originally, the amount of food that was prepared was quite abundant. However, both the emperor emeritus and Fang Zizhen had ultra-sized stomachs. In addition, there were four people from the Zhao Family there too, so it was a bit lacking. The two burners on the kitchen stove were both on high heat. One of them was stewing some duck soup and the other one was being used by Yu Xiaocao, who was brandishing a spatula, to saute a few vegetable dishes.
“Come in, come in, come in! Don’t be polite! Try some of the fruits of the little lass Xiaocao’s labor!!” The emperor emeritus had taken charge of this meal as he sat on a simple and crude wooden stool. His eyes stared at the table full of food. and he started wielding his chopsticks without regard for the others.
The Yu Family’s new dining table wasn’t very big, so it was a bit crowded from seating six large, brawny men. With the imposing emperor emeritus at the table, the rest of the people couldn’t fully express themselves. Luckily, the emperor emeritus didn’t have many airs and the way he ate increased other people’s appetites. When he was pleased from eating the food, he would even grab a chopstick bite of the dish for General Zhao Zimo to share. General Zhao felt quite overwhelmed by his favor.
With his mouth full of delectable pig head meat, crispy pig ears, and fatty intestines, the emperor emeritus felt like he had finally tasted the flavor he had been craving for. He really wanted to settle down at Dongshan Village as a longtime resident!
When he had eaten almost to his fill, the emperor emeritus looked at the vermicelli drying in the courtyard. He remarked with emotion in his voice, “I really miss the taste of pork stewed with vermicelli ah! It’s been on my mind for decades, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to taste it again in this lifetime…”
General Zhao Zimo looked at the former chief of the volunteer army, who had once been vigorous and full of energy. Now, the man’s hair had turned completely white and there were a lot of wrinkles on his face. His back also wasn’t as straight and brawny as before. A sorrowful feeling settled in his heart and the thought of a ‘hero who is past his prime’ flickered through his mind. He quietly asked, “Is it difficult to make pork stewed with vermicelli? I know what pork is, but I’ve never heard of vermicelli. This official is ignorant and inexperienced, so this is the first time I’ve heard of that.”
“Look!” The emperor emeritus faced the bamboo poles that held the drying strips and pouted, “That is vermicelli. I didn’t expect that by just mentioning it, the little girl really figured out how to make them. Although I can tell that the thickness of the noodles are not very even, the taste should still be the same! Now that everything else is prepared, we only lack the pork ah! If we had some fatty streaky pork, that would be even better! Ah! Dongshan Village is still a bit too desolate, it doesn’t even have a place to buy meat from!”
Fang Zizhen was also quite interested in the ‘pork stewed with vermicelli’ that the emperor emeritus kept mentioning. He suddenly had an idea and smiled, “Fifth Lord, although there isn’t a place to buy meat from in Dongshan Village, there are still people who raise pigs here ah! If you really want to eat some, we could buy a big, fat pig and then slaughter it…”
“Mingzhe!!” Zhao Zimo wasn’t quite sure what to do with his occasionally unreliable apprentice. He really didn’t know how this confused man managed to survive decades during the chaos of the start of the dynasty. The man didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut and use his brain.
Fang Zizhen lowered his head sadly like a child who had said something wrong. He stealthily glanced at his master and then quickly looked down again.
Zhao Zimo glared at him fiercely. What kind of rotten idea did this dumb schmuck come up with? The current emperor promoted being frugal and economical and had a great reputation among the commoners. If they especially slaughtered a pig right now and the word came out, that would damage the imperial family’s reputation! This stupid rascal, did he want to become a conniving favored official ah?
“Grandfather, we have a piece of pork cooling in the well in our back courtyard! However, it’s not fatty, streaky pork and is a more balanced piece of leg meat!” Zhao Han’s mother usually didn’t leave the house often, so most of the family’s goods were purchased by Zhao Han or his father. Thus, Zhao Han usually had a good idea of what ingredients they had at home.
The emperor emeritus slapped his hand down and laughed heartily, “Leg meat is also okay!! As long as it’s pork, it’s fine. Youngster Han, go get the pork now! Today, I’ll finally be able to eat some pork stewed with vermicelli ah! Originally I was planning on staying an extra half day tomorrow in order to not leave with regrets!”
In the other room, the leader of the imperial guards heard the emperor emeritus’s remark as he ate his meal. He felt his heart tremble. Before they left, the emperor had given an order he could not disobey on the pain of death. They had to bring the emperor emeritus safely back to the imperial palace within five days. A one-way trip to Dongshan Village already took two days, and they had already spent an entire day in the village today. Originally, the plan was to go back to the prefectural city tomorrow, rest half a day, and then go to the capital the day after.
If they delayed an additional day, then who knew if the emperor emeritus would have another brilliant idea on the way home and delay them further. Should the emperor emeritus be prompted by a sudden impulse to do something else——then his mission to bring him back within five days would be impossible to complete! Hearing what the emperor emeritus just said made him want to cry tears of despair! Fortunately, the Zhao Family had some pork. He had never been so ecstatic and happy over a piece of pork!
That evening, the emperor emeritus had finally satisfied his long-standing craving for good food. Not only did he get to taste duck blood and vermicelli soup, but he also got to eat some authentic pork stewed with vermicelli. Although he wished he had some wine to accompany him, he was still extremely content.
At night, the emperor emeritus stayed over at the Zhao Family’s residence. The Zhao Family trembled with fear as they cautiously made preparations for the night. They were afraid that even the wind blowing over the grass might alarm the emperor emeritus. The imperial bodyguards were even more miserable. Because there weren’t enough rooms available, they had to spend the night in the middle of the cold courtyard with blankets wrapped around their bodies to keep warm in the chilly spring night. Luckily, the night passed without any problems, and the Zhao Family and bodyguards were able to sigh in relief the next day.
The next day, before he left, the emperor emeritus especially went to the Yu Family, and bought all of the remaining vermicelli and the braised food they were planning to sell at the docks that morning! Once he got back to the capital, he certainly wouldn’t have another chance to eat such authentic tasting braised food!
Aish, should he build a mansion residence on the West Mountain? When he returned, he planned on asking Chief Steward Liu if his budget had enough money for this. If not, maybe he should borrow some money from his numerous sons and grandsons to get this done?
Right at this moment, within the capital, the imperial and royal princes all sneezed a few times by chance! A cold chill ran through their bodies, ‘This is a sign of bad luck coming their way ah!!’
The little royal prince, Zhu Junyang, who was far away drifting somewhere on the ocean, also let out a large sneeze. He rubbed his nose a couple of times and looked back towards the motherland. He thought, ‘It must be Mother who’s thinking of me. I’ve already been out at sea for almost half a year. It’s quite boring and dull being out here in the distant seas. Luckily, this group of ships has already been improved. Not only are they much more sturdy, but they are also a lot faster than before!’
He was convinced, that before long, he would be able to smoothly head back home. If he was lucky, he could even accompany his father and mother to the Dragon Boat Festival! When he was by their side he never thought of it, but when he left, he really couldn’t help but worry about them. Zhu Junyang was looking forward to the day he would get back!
After they saw off the esteemed honorable guest, the emperor emeritus, Yu Xiaocao didn’t get to rest for a few days before it was time to say farewell to the Zhao Family.
In order to send them off properly, Yu Xiaocao prepared a grand table full of delectable delicacies. She even ordered some roasted chicken and osmanthus duck from Zhenxiu Restaurant and also got a jar of good wine from them.
That day was coincidentally the day that Little Shitou had his day off. The little boy sat at the table and looked at Zhao Han pitifully. He didn’t want the older youth to leave, so he spoke with a voice choked with emotion, “Brother Han, can you not leave? I will miss you a lot!”
Before they had split from the main branch, he had lived a life where he starved day in and out. Zhao Han, who knew how to hunt, had become a ray of sunlight for him during those dark times. Brother Han had taken him and Second Sister deep into the forest to set traps, roast game in the valley, and catch fish in the creek to stew into soup...although his life now was much more pleasant and comfortable compared to before, those memories had become some of the best ones he could remember.
When they split from the family, Brother Han had also delivered some game to them from time to time in the beginning. It was his help that enabled them to survive that dangerous period of time. Later on, Second Sister used her talents and skills to send their family into prosperous times. However, within his heart, Brother Han was still a tall and lofty figure. For him, the ensemble of Brother Han and Second Sister had become a heavenly, perfect match.
If only...Brother Han didn’t have to leave, wouldn’t that be great?!
Zhao Han rubbed the little fellow’s head. After studying in town for a few months, the little guy not only fleshed out but also grew quite a bit in height. In addition, he was also dressed in the robes of scholar, so it really made him seem like a promising young youth.
At this moment, Zhao Han’s heart was also filled with regrets. Dongshan Village was the place where he was born and grew up in. Although life here was poor and honest, it was a peaceful life. This place held all of the sweet memories of his youth, and this place also held the people who he cared and worried about.Previous Chapter Next Chapter