Chapter 344 - Showing a Bit of Her Skills

The empress looked at Yu Xiaocao with a questioning gaze. Yu Xiaocao smiled and said, "Razor clams are a kind of shellfish. They taste delicious and have a high nutritional value. It can help with deficiencies and also has some therapeutic effects on dysentery."

"A type of shellfish? It takes around two days to get to the oceanside on horseback from the capital. It's a bit unrealistic for my imperial son to have seafood porridge for lunch!" The empress frowned and blamed herself for not being able to give her son what he wanted. 

Yu Xiaocao saw this and hurriedly said, "There should be razor clam meat in the dry goods store. It has some of the same effects if you soak it before cooking it in the porridge. However, it's effects are not as good as fresh razor clams." 

Zhu Junfan was normally strict with the little prince, but he was very worried about his son's illness. Upon hearing it was good for his son's illness, he immediately ordered, "Su Ran, send people to quickly go on horseback to go oceanside to buy razor clams! You will personally leave the palace in person and go to the Zhou Family's dried food store to buy dried razor clams. Our imperial son must have seafood porridge before dinner." 

The little prince pouted and quietly said, "What about lunch? Are you gonna let me have plain white porridge again? There's no flavor, it's so hard to drink..." 

The empress softly comforted him, "Doctor Yu said that you can have it with some seasoned purslane. Your stomach can't handle eating anything else right now."

"What about the medicine? Can I stop drinking bitter medicine now?" The little prince looked at Yu Xiaocao with expectant eyes and pouted. He looked very cute. 

Yu Xiaocao managed to barely restrain her desire to pinch the little guy's cheek and nodded, "If your stomach doesn't hurt in the afternoon and you don't have to run to the bathroom, then you don't have to take the medicine. Eating the purslane candy alone should be fine then!"

The little prince rubbed his stomach. When he heard that he didn't have to drink the bitter medicine, he happily said, "My tummy hasn't hurt for a while, does that mean I'm getting better?" 

"Almost! Eat a few more days worth of candy to stabilize your condition..." Yu Xiaocao was very patient with children. For a sick child, the little prince didn't cry or make a fuss. He could be considered a very sensible child and very cooperative little patient. Sure enough, the children of the imperial family matured earlier. 

"Emperor, Consort Li has brought the little princess to come visit the little prince!" Rong Sheng, the head eunuch of Jingyang palace, respectfully reported the new guests with a lowered chest and a hunched back. 

An unnecessarily white face, respectful eyes and brows, a humble smile that wouldn't change for a thousand years, and a chest that would never straighten out——this was the image of an eunuch in Yu Xiaocao's mind. Su Ran's gentle and refined manner, being neither humble nor arrogant, didn't match the word 'eunuch' in any way. 

Consort Li looked like she was in her twenties. She was wearing a light green palace dress that was embroidered with butterflies fluttering among flowers. The broad hems of the dress were embroidered with layers of a decorative pattern and her hair was coiled into a winding bun such that she exposed her temple. Her light makeup revealed her delicate beauty, and her lips had a thin layer of rouge swiped on. She looked like an elegant chrysanthemum in the fall, with a lingering charm.

Her hand was lightly grasped with the hand of a small girl, who was clearly younger than the imperial prince. She looked like a pretty little porcelain doll and was dressed in a light pink dress embroidered with gold threads. It made her skin seem even more luminous than snow. The little girl resembled a cute little dumpling and was incredibly adorable.    

The three or four-year-old little girl followed her consort mother and elegantly greeted her imperial father and her imperial mother. Then she quietly and gently stood in front of the sickbed and spoke to the little prince in a milky-sweet voice, "Imperial Brother, is your illness better now?"

The little prince only had this one younger sister, and their relationship was considered pretty good, so he nodded and said, "Don't worry Younger Sister. With the exception of my tummy hurting occasionally, there aren't any other problems!" 

"If your tummy hurts, let Imperial Mother rub it for you. Last time when Danyi ate too much and my tummy hurt, it got better after Consort Mother rubbed it..." Zhu Danyi, the little imperial princess, looked at her imperial brother cutely as she 'seriously proposed’ a solution. 

"Was Younger Sister being gluttonous again? You must've sneaked behind Consort Li's back to eat. Don't do it in the future. Lying in bed and being unable to move like I am is the result of eating random food!" Two little ones had a conversation like this face to face.

The emperor was handsome, the empress was dignified and graceful, and Consort Li was elegant and beautiful. Thus, their children's looks would naturally be first class. In addition, they were young and their voices were sweet. This made them extremely cute. Yu Xiaocao smiled unconsciously as she watched the two children interact.

Xiazi, one of the palace maids, came back from the Imperial Kitchen. With a puzzled expression, she said, "Empress, the chefs in the Imperial Kitchen have never seen purslane and don't know how to prepare it. In your opinion..."

The empress looked towards Yu Xiaocao and earnestly said, "Xiaocao, it seems that I will have to trouble you again..." 

Consort Li had a surprised expression on her face. When did the empress ever treat someone so politely? The other was still a child who was only around ten years old. What made this little girl so special?

Zhu Junfan solved the puzzle for her by saying, "The little prince's life was saved thanks to Xiaocao! She's skilled in the difficult and miscellaneous diseases that children can get..." 

Consort Li heard these words and had her own thoughts about it. To be able to be recognized by the emperor and empress meant that the lass had real talents. When children were young, it was inevitable for there to be headaches and fevers. It would be good for the little princess if they made friends with a doctor who was skilled in pediatric medicine. With this in consideration, Consort Li's gaze toward Yu Xiaocao carried some politeness and sincerity.

Yu Xiaocao gave the three giants of the Imperial Palace a proper salute and followed Xiazi to the Imperial Kitchen. Once she was out of Jingyang Palace, Yu Xiaocao's steps became lighter. She breathed in the free air. Being in front of the empress and emperor was too constraining. Yes or no? She felt as if she were shackled, thinking twice before she could do anything. To be with the emperor was the same as living with a tiger, it wasn't a good feeling.

When they arrived at the Imperial Kitchen, the purslane was already prepared. Chunhong had taken several eunuchs and palace maids to pick it, bring it back and clean it for use.

Yu Xiaocao first ran boiled water over the purslane to remove any vegetal smell and then used cold water to clear away the sticky liquid before chopping it up. Once the pot was hot, she put in some sesame oil and stir fired the purslane to make it fragrant. She added a bit of salt to season and then took it out of the pot.  

Washed superior japonica rice was put into the pot and then water was added to boil. The stir-fried purslane was added. The whole mixture cooked over low heat until it became soft and tender. Only then was it ready to be taken out of the pot.

While the purslane porridge was being simmered over a small fire, Xiaocao began to make the seasoned purslane salad. This was relatively simple. The purslane was first blanched in boiling water and then it was rinsed with cold water several times to get rid of the sticky juice. Afterwards, it was cut into sections and put onto a plate. A bit of salt, some garlic sauce, some sesame oil was added to the dish and it was done! 

Just as the purslane porridge was finished, the emperor emeritus appeared in the doorway of the Imperial Kitchen, peering in. A little eunuch, who was helping the cooks, noticed him. Then the entire Imperial Kitchen proceeded to kneel down. Yu Xiaocao also kneeled down in confusion.

"Get up all of you! Continue with what you have to do!" The emperor emeritus noticed Yu Xiaocao in the crowd. His eyes brightened and he scooted over to her with a smile. 

Looking at the food box held by Xiazi, who was beside her, the emperor emeritus coughed softly and asked, "Is this meal personally made by that girl Yu Xiaocao?"

Xiazi hurriedly replied, "Yes, Your Imperial Majesty!" 

The emperor emeritus looked at the food box and considered what to say to let Xiazi leave the food box behind. Yu Xiaocao seemed to have seen his thoughts and said, "Emperor Emeritus, the little prince can't eat anything else right now. This subject has made purslane porridge with seasoned purslane salad, which can help the prince recover from his episode of dysentery." 

The emperor emeritus made a serious face, nodded and said, "Has the little prince not had lunch yet? Why haven't you hurried and sent it over? Can you afford to starve my dear grandson?" 

Xiazi shivered in fear and left with the food box in hand. The emperor emeritus was really subject to quick changes in his moods. In the future, she would have to be careful around him. 

The emperor emeritus saw that Yu Xiaocao was turning around, preparing to leave. He  immediately gave his accompanying guard a meaningful glance. The guard reached out and stopped Yu Xiaocao. Yu Xiaocao looked back at the emperor emeritus in surprise.

The emperor emeritus coughed a few times in embarrassment and said, "Lass, aren't you interested in opening a braised food shop in the capital? You're pretty skilled at making braised pig head meat; it's a waste to not open a braised food shop!"

Yu Xiaocao considered it carefully and shook her head, "To be honest, Imperial Majesty, this subject intends to open a braised food shop, but not in the capital." 

The emperor emeritus frowned and asked in surprise, "Why not? There are many rich people in the capital. You could reach out on the streets and grab a handful of them easily. There's also an open market for a braised food shop in the capital!"

"However, not all the aristocratic families are like you, Imperial Majesty, who likes to eat braised pig's head meat! There are many influential families in the capital who view pork as vulgar food. Most of the ingredients for the braised food made by my family are pig's heads and pig's offals. No matter how good the taste is, those aristocratic families, who value reputation and fear becoming a joke for eating vulgar food, won't buy it. There will even be some people who will mock those who buy braised foods, saying that braised pig's head meat is the food of the poor..." 

Yu Xiaocao has considered this quite a lot. The officials in the imperial court who came from common civilians or humble families were still alright. However, the older noble families were all protective of their public images. They only mingled with men of letters and posed as lovers of culture. Those people would definitely not become one of the customers of the braised food shop. 

The emperor emeritus had contempt toward those aristocratic families who pretended to be lofty and noble. What were they pretending for? Many of these aristocratic families had hundreds of years of history, yet they were gradually declining. Who were they putting on airs for? What was wrong with eating pork? What was wrong with enjoying braised pig's head meat and intestines? He was the emperor emeritus yet even he, the noblest of them all, could eat it, so why couldn’t they eat it? The food of the poor? He wanted to see just who dared to say to his face that this was food fit only for poor people. 

"Xiaocao, let's talk about opening the shop later! Look, the Imperial Kitchen just happens to have a pig's head. Can you help with the braising?" The emperor emeritus was gluttonous, going out of the way to order the Imperial Kitchen to have the pig's head prepared.

After all, this was a recipe that Yu Xiaocao came up with. Although the skills of the imperial chefs in braising the pig's head weren't as good as Yu Xiaocao herself, it was still better than having nothing. The emperor emeritus, who loved to eat braised pig's head, always had the Imperial Kitchen braise one every month, which allowed him to sate his craving.

Yu Xiaocao, who saw that the pig's head and the seasonings were already prepared, smoothly braised the pig's head since it wasn’t too difficult at this point. The pig's head meat was added with all kinds of braising ingredients and cooked slowly in the pot. By dinner time, it would almost be ready. 

She took into consideration that the emperor emeritus was old and a bit overweight. Since she suspected that he would have the three common ailments [1], she also added three drops of mystic-stone water into the pot when no one was paying attention. This way, the marinated pig's head would taste better and be beneficial for the body.


[1] three common ailments - shorthand for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar aka diabetes

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purslane porridge

Translator: Elaine