Qian Wu also went up and poked the pheasant in his hands, and then said, “Older Brother Zhao Han, can you give me a few of this pheasant’s feathers? My younger sister is always pestering me to make a feathered shuttlecock for her…”
Little Shitou didn’t give him any face and laughed, “Weren’t you the one who boasted that you could catch pheasants? You have exaggerated so much that you don’t know how to fix it, right? So you’re asking for Brother Zhao Han’s help now…”
“You stinky rock ! Can’t you give your older brother some face? I’m two years older than you after all. Don’t you know that you need to respect the old and the wise!” Qian Wu cried angrily. The two little kids began to fight in jest again and appeared very lively.
“Father, we’re back!” Before Little Shitou entered the door, he had shouted excitedly as if he was afraid that others wouldn’t know about his ‘triumphant’ return.
Yu Hai, who was immersed in weaving bamboo baskets in the courtyard, heard the noise in front of the door and looked up in surprise, “Xiaowen, Xiaowu, Hanzi, why are you guys here? Xiaolian, quickly get seats for the guests…”
Qian Wen gently prevented Yu Hai from standing up and smiled, “Uncle Dahai, there’s no need. Xiaowu and I are going back now. Xiaocao, where should I put this basket of wild herbs?”
Xiaolian put down her embroidery and looked at the basket full of wild herbs in surprise. She exclaimed softly, “You guys dug out so many wild herbs? I never knew that we could gather so many wild herbs during this season!”
Yu Xiaocao directly instructed, “Just put it in the kitchen… By the way, Brother Xiaowen, you should take some back to make soup. It tastes delicious!”
“No need, no need! There are still a lot of vegetables in our family’s cellar, so we have enough vegetables to eat at home…” Qian Wen politely declined.
Qian Wu covetly stared at the basket of shepherd’s purse and honestly said, “I’m tired of eating vegetables in the cellar, which are nothing but radishes and cabbage. Older Brother, today we also helped to dig up a lot of the wild herbs, so it’s alright to take some back.”
Qian Wen glared at him helplessly and continued to refuse. But Xiaocao had already packed the vegetables for him. She divided one basket of shepherd’s purse into two small baskets. She gave one basket to Qian Wu and had prepared to give the other basket to Zhao Han so that he could take it back to try it.
“Uncle Hai, I caught two wild hares and three pheasants today. My father told me to bring you one.” Zhao Han put the tied up pheasant in front of the kitchen door and was about to leave right away.
Yu Hai limped over with a crutch and said, “Why are you bringing game over again? These days, your family have sent a lot of things over already. For the bear last time, your family didn’t keep any money for yourselves and gave it all to us. Go back and tell your father that you guys don’t owe me anything!”
Zhao Han’s mouth twitched and slightly furrowed his dashing brows, and then said, “You guys didn’t receive any of the money for the bear, right? If we knew that it would turn out like this, my father would have secretly given the money to Uncle Hai and Auntie…”
Yu Xiaocao smirked and said, “Everyone in the village knows that your family sold the bear for three hundred taels. If Grandmother hadn’t received the money from you guys, she would had already gone to your house for trouble. Even if the money was given to my father, it would had been snatched away by my grandmother anyways. Well, she’s not our real grandmother, so there’s nothing I can say. However, my father is Grandfather’s biological son. I can’t believe he actually helped Grandmother hide it from us…”
“Cao’er! How can you criticize your elders? Is that what Father usually teaches you?” Yu Hai raised his voice and interrupted his daughter’s words.
Xiaocao bit her lips and refused to comply, “Why would they be afraid of other’s criticism when they’re capable of acting in such ways? Grandfather and Grandmother are originally at fault for this matter! If they even gave us one-tenth of the three hundred taels, we wouldn’t have to meticulously calculate our rations when cooking every day!”
Yu Hai’s gaze dimmed. He sighed deeply and said, “Father is useless. I’ve made you guys suffer with me…” As he spoke, he limped back to the main room.
Xiaolian looked at her stubborn younger sister, and then looked at her father desolate back. She wanted to say something but hesitated. In the end, she finally said, “Little Sister, I buried a sweet potato for you under the ashes below the stove. Later, you can take it out to eat…” After she finished speaking, she immediately chased after her father and entered the house.
Everyone in the family knew that Xiaocao easily got hungry at noon, so they would bury a sweet potato in the ashes under the stove after cooking every morning. Xiaocao preferred the sweet-tasting roasted sweet potato compared to the coarse grain pancakes and bean paste soup. They saved all the sweet potatoes that their maternal grandmother sent over last time for her. Even Little Shitou didn’t bear to eat one.
Qian Wen felt somewhat awkward as he stood there, so he coughed twice and said, “Xiaocao, we’ve been out for quite a while, so we should go back now.” After that, he pulled the slow-witted Qian Wu and left Xiaocao’s house.
Zhao Han also planned to take this opportunity to leave, but Xiaocao stopped him and said, “Thank you for sending the pheasant. Like my father said, you don’t have to bring us game anymore. We’ll accept it this time, but if you continue, we’ll just send them back to your house. This is the wild herbs that we dug out today. Bring them back for Uncle Zhao to taste.”
Zhao Han didn’t refuse and took the basket, “I’ll bring the basket back to you tomorrow.”
Xiaocao and Little Shitou were the only ones left in the courtyard speechlessly looking at one another. Little Shitou stealthily looked his second sister and whispered, “It seems like Father is really angry. You should go in and apologize to him. Father dotes on you the most, so he won’t spank you!”
Whenever Little Shitou misbehaved, his father would always hold him down on his knees and spanked him severely on his bottoms. Yu Hai was used to working and had great strength, so he often beat Little Shitou so hard that he ended up crying while holding his butt. Thus, Little Shitou feared his father’s hands the most!
Yu Xiaocao didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry, and just sighed deeply. She went into the room and apologized to her father. Seeing that she was sincere, Yu Hai also didn’t scold her anymore. Hence, this matter had passed over in this way.
Yu Xiaocao personally prepared dinner, while Xiaolian helped on the side. She asked Little Shitou to buy one copper coin worth of tofu in the village and made shepherd’s purse tofu soup. She also made shepherd’s purse pancake and several shepherd’s purse steamed buns, which was made with a small mixture of wheat flour.
Xiaocao recalled the steamed bun that Qian Wen gave her at noon, so she used the cloth bag and packed three shepherd’s purse steamed buns inside. After that, she told Little Shitou to bring it over to the Qian Family.
It was Qian Wen’s mother, Madam Mao, who opened the door. When she saw the cloth bag in Little Shitou’s hands, she couldn’t help but mutter inwardly: ‘Isn’t this the cloth bag that I used to wrap the steamed bun for my son? Why is it in this kid’s hand? My son went out for so long today. Could it be that he didn’t eat the steamed bun and gave it to someone else instead?’
She was very clear about the situation of Yu Hai’s family. After separating from the main family for so many days, the ration of food that they received was probably already running out. Could it be that her kind-hearted son decided to give his steamed bun to the hungry Little Shitou because their family skipped out on breakfast?
With that in mind, Madam Mao forced a smile and asked, “Oh! Isn’t this the cloth bag that I gave Wen’er to carry the dry food? Why is it in your hands?”
No, she should keep her two sons stays away from the Yu siblings. Her family didn’t have a lot of resources, so they couldn’t afford helping them out so much!
Little Shitou didn’t understand the undertones of her words, so he replied with a grin, “When we were digging for wild herbs, Brother Xiaowen gave his steamed bun to my second sister because she was hungry. My second sister felt sorry for eating your family’s steamed bun, so she told me to bring several shepherd’s purse steamed buns for Brother Xiaowen and Brother Xiaowu to try.”
As he spoke, he opened the cloth bag and revealed the soft, fluffy steamed buns inside.
Madam Mao saw that there were three steamed buns made of wheat flour inside and knew that there was one for each of her three children. She felt a sense of shame for her narrow-mindedness earlier. She hastily pushed the cloth bag back and said, “It’s tough for your family too. You should keep these steamed buns for you and your siblings to eat! Didn’t you guys give us some shepherd’s purse this afternoon? Tomorrow, we can make the buns ourselves…”
Little Shitou shook his head and said, “Auntie Qian, my second sister has excellent cooking skills. You guys won’t be able to make the same taste!”
He held the steamed buns, walked past Madam Mao, and went inside the house while shouting, “Brother Xiaowen, come eat steamed buns. It’s fragrant and delicious shepherd’s purse steamed buns!”
When Qian Wu, who was eating millet pancake in the room, heard him, he immediately ran out and grabbed the cloth bag within Little Shitou’s hands. He directly took one and bit down on it.
Xiaocao had added fried tofu inside the shepherd’s purse stuffing. She also minced the dried fish that her youngest aunt sent over and mixed it in the stuffing to enhance the taste. Due to the lack of seasonings at home, she stir-fried the dried chili pepper, and then grounded it into powder. The stir-fried chili pepper was fragrant and appetizing, adding an extra tang to the steamed buns.
Generally, people were reluctant to use oil when making steamed buns with vegetable stuffing. They would only use salt and scallion as seasonings. Qian Wu had never eaten such a tasty steamed bun before. He disregarded the fact that he couldn’t eat spicy food and continued eating the bun. Half of the steamed bun in his hand was already gone after a few bites. Little Shitou, who was beside him, anxiously reminded him, “Don’t eat it all by yourself! Share it with Brother Xiaowen and Yafang!”
It was so spicy that Qian Wu was tearing up and had a runny nose. He kept sucking for cold air and repeatedly praised, “It’s delicious! So addicting! Little Shitou, your mother’s cooking is really good. Let my mother learn from her tomorrow…”
“Stinky brat! Since you’re complaining about my cooking, don’t eat the food I make in the future!” Madam Mao smacked the back of her younger son’s head and jokingly scolded. She took the cloth bag in his hands and said, “Have you thanked Little Shitou yet? You only think about eating and didn’t even think about letting your older brother have a taste!”
When Madam Mao got closer, she smelled an alluring shepherd’s purse scent mixed with the burnt fragrance of stir-fried chili pepper. She couldn’t help but swallow her saliva secretly.
As soon as the steamed buns were ready, Little Shitou was immediately sent out to deliver the steamed buns. When he saw Qian Wu eating the steamed buns earlier, his stomach couldn’t help but growling in protest. Seeing that he had completed his mission, Little Shitou said his farewells and immediately turned to leave.
Qian Wen ran after him and stopped him, and said, “Go back and tell your older sister that I said ‘thank you for your steamed stuffed buns’. Also, the basket has been vacated, so you can take it back. If you guys go dig for shepherd’s purse tomorrow, remember to let me know.”
Little Shitou took the basket from him, agreed, and swiftly dashed home. There was delicious food waiting for him at home. Behind him, the little roe deer was also running gleefully at full speed.
Xiaocao’s culinary skills had won the praise of the entire family. In the shepherd’s purse tofu soup, the verdant shepherd’s purse and the snow-white, soft tofu was a perfect contrast for each other. When looking at the green and white colors, people’s appetite would increase. Xiaocao had also used the dried fish to enhance the flavor of this soup. It was a substitute for dried sea shrimp, but the taste wasn’t bad at all.
 Shitou (石头) – literally means rock/stonePrevious Chapter Next Chapter