With a head full of imaginary black lines, Yu Xiaocao gave Big Gray a warning glare, and then gave the little guy a few more dumplings. Little Black licked his little master’s hands with gratitude, ‘Little Master, you’re the best! Little Black loves you the most!!’ After that, he gobbled up his dumplings for fear that his father would steal them away again.
Big Gray wanted to do the same thing and rob Little White’s dumplings. However, Little White wasn’t as easy to deal with as Little Black. Not only was he unable snatch the dumplings, but he also ended up being bitten on the face by Little White, leaving a row of teeth marks. Big Gray looked threateningly at his ‘unfilial son’, ‘If master wasn’t next to us, I would have smacked you silly! You dared to fight with your father. Just wait!!’
Little White unhurriedly finished his dumplings, and didn’t even spare his father a glance, ‘If you dared to bully me, Master won’t let you drink the tasty water. Humph!!’
Seeing that Xiaocao had gone out the door of the west room, Little White strode out proudly behind her and ignored Big Gray, who was scratching the floor with his claws. When Big Gray turned his head to look at Little Black’s bowl, the little guy immediately stuffed the last two dumplings into his mouth and then rushed out of the room at the fastest speed. Big Gray was full of complaints within his heart, ‘Master, why don’t I get anything good to eat, and yet I’m always being ordered to work?’
In the main room, Madam Zhao, her son, and Heizi had already finished eating the dumplings. Old Yu teased the cute Little Doudou and asked him to do the New Year’s greetings, “Doudou, if you wish Grandfather a happy New Year, then you can get a red envelope!”
Under the guidance of his older brothers and sisters, Doudou kneeled down with slight difficulty, lowered his head onto the kang bed several times, and said some auspicious words, “May Grandfather have a happy New Year, and live a long and healthy life!”
In the past, before they had divided the family, the younger generations also kowtowed to the Old Yu couple as New Year greetings. After Yu Hai’s family separated from the family, the children just had to bow with their hands clasped in front of themselves. It didn’t matter how they did the New Year greetings, as long as they were able to express their sincerely.
After Little Doudou received the red envelope from his paternal grandfather, he was encouraged by his older siblings to open it. Little Shitou said with a grin, “Doudou, why don’t you count to see how many copper coins you received as lucky money?”
Little Doudou had learned how to count, so it wasn’t hard for him, “One, two, three… ten coins. There’s a total of ten copper coins!”
Madam Zhao took the red envelope from her son’s hands and prepared to give it back to the old man, “Father, it’s too much. The child would be happy with just one copper coin.”
In her opinion, her father-in-law relied on her second brother-in-law’s family for all the basic necessities of his life. There were so many children, so if he gave ten copper coins to each, that would be at least eighty to ninety copper coins. Didn’t it all come from her second brother-in-law? Today, she didn’t bring the kids over for New Year greetings with the intention of getting lucky money. She wasn’t as greedy as her sister-in-law, Madam Li, who would destroy all the affection between relatives for the sake of a little money.
Old Yu looked at her, took the red envelope, and then put it back into the hands of his aggrieved grandson. He said, “Take it. Everyone gets one! Don’t worry, I have money. Your second brother-in-law gives me some pocket money every month, but I usually don’t have anything to spend it on.” After saying that, he also gave Heizi a red envelope.
Little Doudou’s face lit up with happiness. His small hands were full after receiving red envelopes from his second uncle, second aunt, oldest aunt, and oldest uncle. Madam Zhao felt slightly embarrassed, so she decided to go back after briefly chatting with them. Old Yu thought about it, and then said to Madam Liu, “Second Son’s wife, are there any more dumplings in the kitchen? Let Third Son’s wife take a bowl of dumplings back for her husband.” He got divorced, but Third Son was still a descendant of his Yu Family!
Madam Liu didn’t say anything and went to the kitchen to get a bowl of dumplings. She placed it in a small bamboo basket, covered it with a cotton cloth, and then handed it to Madam Zhao. Seeing this, Heizi wanted to say something, but in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to open his mouth.
After sending off Madam Zhao and the kids, the Yu Family soon welcomed another group of people who came to give New Year greetings. Zhou Shanhu, who had a good relationship with Yu Xiaocao, was in the front, while her older brother, Zhou Shaohua, followed behind her. There were also the Qian Family’s Qian Wen, Qian Wu, and Qian Yafeng. The three families lived close by and frequently interacted with each other, so the children had a good relationship.
Qian Wen, who would turn fourteen after the New Year, had already grown up to be a graceful and beautiful young man. He was also preparing for the county-level exams in February. He usually worked very hard, and before the school suspended classes, he rarely came back for breaks and stayed at the academy to study. The academy had suspended classes due to the disaster year, so he stayed at home and studied hard. As a result, it had been a long time since Xiaocao had seen this youth.
Yu Xiaocao took out snacks to entertain her friends. Zhou Shanhu widened her eyes and exclaimed in surprise, “Stir-fried pumpkin seeds, stir-fried peanuts, maltose candy, sesame candy, peanut candy… Xiaocao, you have such a rich variety of snacks at home. And this, it’s the seeds of the sunflower that you guys planted in your backyard, right?”
With a smile, Yu Xiaocao nodded and said, “Yes! I sautéed it with salt and pepper. Have a taste and see if it’s good!”
Zhou Shanhu didn’t act courteous and grabbed a handful of the seeds. She followed Xiaocao, placed a sunflower seed in her mouth, and bit on the shell. Then she clumsily took out the unshelled seed and savored it in her mouth. She nodded and said, “It’s quite tasty! The things brought back from the western hemisphere taste quite good! You guys should quickly try it!”
The children excitedly ate the candies, melon seeds, and peanuts as they happily chatted. Before long, the family welcomed another group of visitors for the New Year. Among the group was Uncle Shuanzhu’s daughters, Liu Huifang and Liu Yingzi, and second son, Tiedan’er. That Zheng Xiaocui, who always wanted to get closer to the young royal prince, also came.
While eating the Yu Family’s rich variety of snacks, Zheng Xiaocui felt envious and jealous within her heart, ‘How could the Yu Family live such a good life if they hadn’t gotten acquainted with the royal prince? If I can become the royal prince’s concubine, my family will definitely live a better life than the Yu Family!’
Ay! One should know one’s own limitations. With a tan and scrawny appearance and decent facial features, she might be praised as good-looking in Dongshan Village. However, any random young girl on the streets in town could be better looking than her, let alone the capital. Royal Prince Yang wasn’t a womanizer, so there was no way that he would be interested in her!
No matter what intentions these children had, since they had come to give New Year greetings, those with the ability would give the children some dried fruits and snacks. After Madam Liu gave the kids some sunflower seeds, peanuts, and various sweets, the children contentedly went to give greetings to the next family. The children of the Yu Family were also pulled along by their good friends to pay New Year greetings to other families.
Not all families were like the Yu Family, who prepared a lot of delicious food. In the past years, there were all kinds of nuts and dates on the mountains. In autumn, all the households would gather some for their children to snack on. However, this year, the mountain had been gnawed bare by the locusts. Thus, there were fewer families that could entertain the young guests this year. Families that were more well-off, like the village head’s family, Qian Family’s, and Zhou Family’s, would prepare maltose candy or some sort of nuts. Many people barely had enough to eat, so where would they get snacks to give the kids who came to pay New Year greetings?
However, the simple rural children, whether they could get snacks or not, were very happy to pay New Year greetings to other families. These cute little fellows added some festive atmosphere to the dreary New Year…
After eating the sweet and delicious glutinous dumplings and enjoying the colorful lantern show, the Spring Festival  was coming to an end. In order to prepare for the district examination in February, Rongxuan Academy resumed classes after the Lantern Festival . But, eating became a big problem. It was easy to buy grain, but it was difficult to find green vegetables. The cooks in the cafeteria were racking their brains for the sake of the children’s meals. At the beginning, there were only salted vegetables and dried vegetables, which were extremely expensive. Fortunately, the sons of wealthy merchants in the south transported some radishes, cabbages, and meat from the south, and thus, alleviated the problem of eating vegetables.
Little Shitou also registered for district examination in February. In order to ensure that her younger brother could eat well before the exam, Yu Xiaocao moved to the house in town. She also brought a portion of the vegetables, which they had stored in boxes at home, to town. During the transportation, she covered them with a thick quilt to prevent them from freezing.
The Yu Family house in town was located close to Rongxuan Academy, which made it convenient for her to cook for Little Shitou. Little Shitou applied to be a commuting student so that he could eat all three meals at home. The food at the school was too simple, and the cooking skills of the chef was also average. How could it be better than the meals made by Second Sister?
Every morning, Yu Xiaocao would cook fragrant corn porridge for her younger brother, along with a boiled or fried egg, and egg pancake. At times, she would make pan-fried chives cake, or steamed meat buns. For lunch, the siblings would eat a meal that consisted of one meat dish, one vegetable dish, and soup. The staple food would be rice or steamed buns. For dinner, it was either dumplings or different types of noodle dishes. Every meal was different for the whole week. Every day, Little Shitou would go to the academy with a bulging tummy and show off to his classmates.
One day, Little Shitou returned with an expression as if he had done something wrong. Yu Xiaocao was about to ask if he had gotten in a fight with someone at school, but she looked up to see two little tails behind her younger brother—Little Shitou’s roommates, Liu Jinye and Little Fatty, Sun Runze. Their other roommate, who was younger, wasn’t participating in this year’s district examination, so he didn’t return to the academy to study.
Little Fatty, Sun Runze, warmly said, “Second Sister, let’s eat our meals together. My father gives me ten taels monthly for my meals. I’ll give them all to you. If it’s not enough, I’ll send a letter to ask my father for more!”
Liu Jinye had already turned thirteen years old after the New Year. He explained with slight embarrassment, “The food at the cafeteria isn’t very good. If we can’t fill our stomachs, then we can’t focus on studying. We know that Miss Xiaocao has excellent cooking skills, so we want to come and eat together…”
Whether it was one sheep or a flock of sheep, they needed to be herded. Yu Xiaocao didn’t refuse them and only said, “It’s a disaster year and the beginning of spring, so the ingredients are relatively simple. If you guys don’t mind, then let’s eat together. However, you guys need to return to the academy after dinner!”
“Of course!” Liu Jinye and Sun Runze hastily nodded.
Little Fatty was even more elated as he asked, “Second Sister, what delicious food are you making for tonight? I’m not picky as long as it can fill my stomach!”
Yu Xiaocao rolled her eyes in her heart and thought, ‘Not picky? If you’re not picky, then why aren’t you eating at school and coming here for meals?’
“Tonight, we’re eating pork and bean sprouts braised with vermicelli. Since you guys came, I’ll add ‘sour and spicy shredded potatoes’!” Yu Xiaocao wasn’t going to pamper them. She would cook with the ingredients they had at home, and they would eat whatever she made.
Little Fatty, Sun Runze, widened his eyes and asked in surprise, “Sour and spicy shredded potatoes? Is it the ‘sour and spicy shredded potatoes’ that cost five taels at Zhenxiu Restaurant? The newly imported vegetable from the western hemisphere?”
 Spring Festival = Chinese/Lunar New Year
 Lantern Festival (元宵节) - the final event of the Spring Festival, on the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendarPrevious Chapter Next Chapter