Chapter 17 – State Banquet, Part 2
I slowly inched over behind her, and gradually managed to catch sight of the man’s face.
I stared, it turned out to be Wei Qi. As for Su Yue Ran, when she saw me appear behind her, a thread of panic flashed in her eyes.
“Greetings to Imperial Concubine Li. Wei Qi, what are you doing here?”
After a brief greeting to Imperial Concubine Li, I dragged Wei Qi away.
“I was a little bored by the banquet, so came out for a breath of fresh air. I was just strolling in the gardens when I encountered Imperial Concubine Li so I came over to give my greetings. We’ve only exchange a couple of words when you arrived.”
Wei Qi answer was very casual and natural as he turned to look at Su Yue Ran once more. The flustered look in her eyes was gone, replaced with her usual charming languidness.
“Well then, Xiran, I shall leave you to chat with Imperial Concubine Li The banquet should be about done by now, I should get back soon.”
Saying this, Wei Qi bowed a greeting towards Imperial Concubine Li, gave me a slight gesture, and left.
“Sir Song, the question you’ve just asked Sir Wei, I wish to ask of you as well. Why are you at this place?” The moment Wei Qi was out of sighted, she started to question me.
I really did not expect her to address me as ‘Sir Song’. after all, I’m basically a nobody within the palace. To put it nicely, I’m the personal chef of the princess, to put it less nicely, I’m merely an odd job man scurrying about various palace kitchens. So, why should she be so polite to me? Was it out of respect for the princess?
Though there were many questions in my heart, I still answered politely:
“In reply to Niang Niang, his majesty had prepared this banquet to entertain the ambassadors as well as the princess from Xi Ye Country. The responsibility of this banquet had been placed upon this slave’s shoulders. When this slave heard that Wei Qi would be attending, this slave went looking for him and happened to wondered over here.”
Though I also wish to know what Imperial Concubine Li was doing here, the Purple Smoke Palace was quite ways away from here, almost a little too far to walk.
However, I was still a mere servant and she the master. It’s better to stay silent and not ask my superiors too many questions.
“Imperial Concubine Li, do you have any other instructions? If there’s nothing else, this one will leave now.”
I gave her another deep bow, deciding to leave as soon as I can. It’s a little suspicious for Su Yue Ran and Wei Qi to meet up this way, though Wei Qi told me the reason for his being here, but surely it’s still too much of a coincidence for Imperial Concubine Li to appear here, ba? No, I should chase him down and question him some more.
As I was about to leave, Su Yue Ram stopped me.
“If Sir Song have nothing else to do, do stay and stroll with ben gong for awhile, ba.”
Though the princess have ordered me not to have anything to do with this Imperial Concubine Li, I can’t really ignore a direct order. Therefore, I could only grit my teeth and chat with her for a bit.
“Sir Song’s cooking is unexpectedly superb, the Blue Lady Flame Steak Sir Song had made last time still lingered in my memories. Ah, I’d love have it again~ Ben gong have long to speak with Sir Song once more, would you be willing to make this for ben gong again?
Unlike normally flirtatious look in her beautiful eyes, there was a hint of expectations in those charming limpid pools. It was like looking into gentle spring in autumn, clear, lovely and moving. Such was the gaze that landed on me when she turned her head to look at me.
“Niang niang’s praise is too great. If niang niang really wishes to eat some, a command from you and this one will personally send some to you. This one still have not thank niang niang’s great generosity for this one’s careless behaviour with niang niang’s servants.”
That look was just too horribly attractive, luckily I know my place and did not look up at all, keeping my head bowed, my eyes on her feet.
“Hohohohohoho~ There’s no need for Sir Song to be so nervous. So you still remember that little incident in the past, well, as someone from princess’ Li Hua Palace, I will not make things difficult for you. Well then, will I be able to see this steak in three days’ time?” Her hand lightly touched some nearby leaves, her fingers slowly stroking the green surface.
Looks like this Imperial Concubine Li Fei also liked to eat, food really is the God of people.
“This one shall personally serve the meal at the Purple Smoke Palace, would niang niang please be at ease.”
At this point, a familiar voice appeared behind me. There was a thread of icy anger within it. Even a casual observer could tell that the owner of this voice was really angry.
“Xiran, no wonder I can’t find you anywhere, so you’ve been accompanying Imperial Concubine Li Fei all this while?”
“Oh no!” my heart wailed piteously.
My whole body gave a twitch, then I leapt around and began to grovel.
“Princess, please listen to me, I…”
“Enough, come back to the palace with me.” she cut past my explanation and began to leave.
I awkwardly stood in place, unsure whether to follow, really did not want to stay. I really did not know what to do.
“It has been several days since I last see Princess Yi Hua, it would behoove you to be more generous. I was the one who bumped into Sir Song and we exchanged a few words. Would the princess please not make things difficult for him.” Su Yue Ran offered these few words from the side.
“It’s been some time since we last met, Li Fei niang niang, you have somehow become even more charming and beautiful. If anyone from the Yi Hua Palace had offended niang niang, your generous heart would be most appreciated. However, as a palace mistress, it is my duty to discipline my people, if niang nian had no other business, I shall take him away now. Xiran, we’re leaving.”
The princess’ words were quite mystifying, the only thing I could see were swords and arrows in the form of words flaying hither thither between them. She only acted this way around Li Fei, which was why I normally avoided this woman.
Not sure why, but this Li Fei never said anything back. She only watched as we leave, a certain kind of demonic charm, the one that I’ve seen only once before appeared in her eyes, she lightly said to herself,
“Song Xiran and the princess are really… amusing, really amusing~” so saying, she slowly turned in the direction of the Purple Smoke Palace, and left.
I chased after the fuming princess all the way to Yi Hua Palace. No matter what I said to her, she kept on striding forward, not speaking to me or even looking at me even once.
When we reached Yi Hua Palace, she sat in a chair in front of the palace. Yuan’er poured tea and I immediate rushed to take the cup and signalled with my eyes that she should leave us alone, that I would be there to serve the princess. There was some hesitation in her eyes, but she too felt that there was something wrong with the situation, and finally retreated.
I put on a smile as I brought tea over to the princess. When I held out the tray, her hand picked up the cup and happiness filled my heart. If she was willing to take tea from my hands, that means she’s not really that angry, more importantly, I can somehow salvage this~
I got close enough to almost rub against her and showed my most pitiful look and said, “Princes, princess, I told you already on the way back. Meeting that Li Hua person was a complete coincidence, so please don’t be angry, alright?”
She looked at my pitiful face and seemed to soften down a little, though she clearly still felt a little angry and helpless, the fire within her stomach seemed to have disappeared.
“Xiran, haven’t I told you many times to stay away from Li Hua. Even though today is an accident, but could you please promise me never to see her alone any more?” when she had said this, she tucked herself into my embrace. Like a cat wanting to be petted.
Since she put it this way, I had no choice but to agree. However, in my heart, I delayed this promise till after I’ve delivered the steak.
Suddenly, a most wonderful idea popped into my head.
“Zhen’er, shall we have hot pot tonight? You like wild mushrooms, right? Let’s have a nourishing pot of wild mushroom dish to warm the stomach tonight. Since it’s also the Mid-Autumn Festival tonight. How luxurious it is to have tea with a beautiful woman under the moon. It’ll be perfect once I’ve prepared some mooncakes~”
The more I spoke, the more excited I became, until even my own mouth started to water.
“Very well, we’ll do as you say.”
Seeing me so excited, whatever unhappiness in her heart was also swept away.
Thus, I happily head towards the Imperial Kitchens to make my preparations.
First, a clean ceramic pot in jade white colour.
Then, with skilful hands I sliced up some ginger and onions and placed them on the condiments tray.
After that, I prepared some fresh shiitake, enoki mushrooms, chanterelles, pink coral fungus, porcini mushrooms, parasol mushrooms, and collybia albuminosa, button mushrooms, bamboo fungus, and other types of mushrooms which were either torn to pieces or cut into strips.
After that, I took a freshly killed hen with its internal organs cleaned out and cut its meat into bite size pieces, about two centimetres in size.
Next, chicken oil rendered from the chicken skin, chicken meat, eggs and chicken gizzard in the pot along with chicken pieces that haven’t been touched by water.
When water started to boil, I scooped away foam and water that formed on the boiling soup, added fresh water, ginger slices and reduce the fire to a low flame and started to stew the chicken soup.
Aside from various kinds of mushrooms, I decided to prepare some other fresh vegetables and meat as well.
There’s Chinese cabbage, spinach, pea sprouts, cabbage leaves, potatoes, lotus roots, tender bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, tofu, parsley, beef, pork and more.
After this, we will put all these ingredients into the pot, a hot pot must be filled with natural ingredients for it to be delicious!
While the chicken soup was stewing, I started to prepare the ingredients for making mooncakes.
Since it’s Mid Autumn Festival, we musn’t forget mooncakes.
I heard that the princess liked red bean paste, so I plan to try making some with red bean filling just for her.
First, I prepared some medium strength flour, peanut oil, filtered water and honey as well as some red bean paste that had been prepared in advance just for this kind of delicious emergencies. This way, I don’t have to rush around too much in the kitchen.
Next, I poured the water, peanut oil and honey into a pot and stirred them in with a stirring stick in clockwise motion until the colour lightened.
Once I judged the timing to be right, I poured the flour.
When the mixture turned shaggy, I started to knead it until it became a smooth dough, covered it with some muslin cloth and left it rise for about 1 stick of incense.
Time passed quickly and the dough had risen nicely, looking very plump and round, it was very pleasing to the eye.
I pinched some dough, rolled it, then flattened it against my palm and pressed some bean paste in the middle before carefully squeezing and rolling the dough shut.
Once the thread of opening had disappeared, I took out some mooncake moulds and dusted the inside with a tiny bit of flour. This was to prevent the dough from sticking against the mould in order to get the mooncakes out more easily later.
Then, I gently pressed the bean paste filled dough into the mould, making sure to fill in the space properly so that the patterns will turn out well when the cakes are tipped out later.
When I carefully tapped the cake out, it fell with a little thump, it’s pattern perfectly outlined and clean.
After repeating this motion a few times, I had a good number of mooncakes in front of me and placed them all in the oven to bake.
After baking for about 1 stick of incense, I took out the half cooked mooncakes.
Using a glaze made of beaten egg yolk and a spoonful of egg white, I quickly brushed the surface of each cake a bright golden colour.
They were soon returned to the oven to bake.
In a short time, the sweet smell of red bean paste soon filled the kitchen, indicating that the mooncakes were ready to be taken out. All of them looked very delicious.
The chicken soup which had been stewing on the side was also not bad. A thick smell of chicken rose up to my face when I uncovered the pot, the soup was so clear that I could see past the sparkling chicken oil all the way down the bottom of the pot.
Now all I had to do was decant the soup into a nicer looking pot, and we have the perfect soup base for the mushroom hot pot.
I looked at my masterpiece with satisfaction, I really wanted to show the princess this wonderful art with the princess and could care less about the flour on my face.
Only, it was a pity that a eunuch had just came in with summons from the emperor to inform me that the imperial banquet had ended and that his majesty wished to see me. He should be quite satisfied with the banquet, ba, it’s entirely possible that I’ve been summoned so that he could reward me, ba.
I sent a message via Yuan’er, asking her to inform the princess that the emperor had summoned me and to ask the princess to wait for me since I should return shortly. With the message sent, I hurried off with the eunuch towards the imperial study.
[Translator: Personally, I really dislike people like Song Xiran. Too talented, too good looking and overly confident.]
 ben gong – A royal ‘I’ for palace women
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Translated and edited by Gumihou from kitchennovel dot com.
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