The Feast – 168 – To Provoke

The Feast – 168 – To Provoke

Chapter 168: To Provoke

 

Translated by Gumihou

Please read this at kitchennovel dot com

 

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Concubine Jing lowered her head and thought seriously for a long while. Finally, she gave a bitter smile and said, “Madam Yun is impetuous and vicious; Madam Lan is delicate and reserved; Concubine Jiang is an idiot. Madam is right, if you bring this up with the lord, he might just place all the children here. Well, just be a bit more careful. Since Chuan’er’s matter happened just recently, I suppose no one would dare to use the children for their own purpose. The lord would definitely not let the matter go and everyone is aware of this. Anyone who tries to pull children into the inner court fight would only be calling the wrath of the lord down on their heads, right?”

The two chatted until Concubine Jing’s personal maid Zhu Xiu came over, and informed them that a few grannies were waiting outside for instructions on various household arrangements as well  as budgets for the New Year Festival. At that, Concubine Jing stood up and took her leave. Once Concubine Jing left, Hong Lian poured tea for Su Nuan Nuan with a smile, “Madam, Concubine Jing has been taking on more and more duties recently, isn’t it a good thing?”

Su Nuan Nuan sneered, “The sins of Heaven are forgiven, the sins of Man ends in death[1]. Madam Yun had been spreading her ill wind through the mansion far too long. To protect her position, she even dared to harm Chuan’er. Did she imagine that there are no talented people left in this residence? If we let her continue running this place, who knows what will happen to it? Concubine Jing is someone who handles things fairly. She had made a lot of improvements already, I’ve checked around with other people, and have heard nothing but praises. It makes sense to promote people with talent, Madam Yun had been too fond of showing off her power. In the future, she can just practice her dictatorship within Autumn Rain Pavilion.”

 

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In a blink of an eye, the year end was nearly upon them. It was the 23rd of the twelfth lunar month today.

After having dinner with Old Madam Fang at North Court, Su Nuan Nuan was about to make her way back to Spring Breeze Court when she spotted Duan Tingxuan making his way over. In a low voice, she said, “Now that Madam Yun has lost her House Manager position, she had been looking all pale and peaky. It’s quite pitiful. Why don’t you go and sit with her for a while?”

“She only has herself to blame. I even gave her a warning before it happened.” Duan Tingxuan gave Xu Ran Yun a side-eye. His tone of voice was not good. Though the investigation into Duan Maochuan’s ‘illness’ reached an impasse, he found several threads that ended at Xu Ran Yun’s place. Also, there were traces of Xue Zhi Lan’s most trusted people in the shadows. While Long Yan’s effort to fan the flames could not have forced matters to come to head like this, it was all still very suspicious. Of course, this was all the little marquis’ own speculation. As Su Nuan Nuan had said before, they had been too rushed that day, and lost the best opportunity to gather evidence. It was too difficult to try and look for evidence right now.

Because of this, the little marquis’ attitude towards these two secondary wives have changed. He could not will himself to voluntarily spend time with these scheming women. On his occasional visits, he felt that their every conversation seemed to contain probing words or hidden anger, which did little to soften his attitude towards them. It just so happened that he was really busy these days and often spend the night at Spring Breeze Court. However, aside from Xiang Yun and Hong Lian, no one knew that he and Su Nuan Nuan never shared a bed.

“Whether she has herself to blame or not, the matter has already happened…” Su Nuan Nuan was about to persuade her husband when she caught his sharp glare.

“Have I ever told you how much I hate this habit of yours of pushing me away to other women? Let’s go, I have some important matter I need to discuss with you.”

“To think the day you’d complain about being with other women would come. If you’re going to complain, why did you marry so many wives and concubines for? You reap what you sow, surely you know this saying?” Su Nuan Nuan was still angry over this matter: To have such a handsome man as her husband, a man of great talent and reliable nature was not bad already, but he was also a foodie with a sense of humour. However, because of her own principles, she could only look and not eat. Do you know how aggravating this is?

Back at Spring Breeze Court, the maids were all sent out as husband and wife sat opposite each other. Duan Tingxuan remained quiet for a long time before saying, “Come spring, I plan to go to Jiang Nan for a while. Would you like to come with me for a holiday?”

“A holiday?” Su Nuan Nuan was shocked. “You’re a high ranking court official, still have time for holidays? Why? Have you been sent on a trip because the emperor or the crown prince is suspicious of you for something?”

“Stop with your wild guesses.” Duan Tingxuan eyed Su Nuan Nuan for awhile. “Can’t you think well of me once in a while?” he fell silent after that, the only sound in the room was the drumming of his fingers on the table. “Pingzhang has been dead for 3 months now, but we can’t even locate his body. The emperor was furious, but then seemed to have forgotten the matter soon after that. Only, I was called into his study today and was given a private mission. I was to go to Jiang Nan and conduct some secret investigation.”

“The emperor wants you to go to Jiang Nan?” Su Nuan Nuan was even more surprised by this: The emperor placed a lot of importance on Duan Tingxuan, for him to send this subordinate out to investigate a single death, clearly he attached a lot of importance on this mission. “Could it be possible that the emperor is getting suspicious of King Xiangyang too?”

“I believe so. When the time comes, we’ll disguise ourselves in order to not stand out.” He turned to Su Nuan Nuan and said enticingly, “Well? Don’t you want to go?” he smiled, took a deep breath, and began to recite, “

Jiang Nan, ah.

Sheltered in a little inn, listen, it’s the sound of spring rain

The hidden lanes of Jiang Nan we walk, hear you the call of apricot flower sellers?

Four-hundred and eighty temples we have, here in the southern dynasties

West of the Yellow Crane Tower, we greet old friends under blooming fireworks

Welcoming Yangzhou’s third month…[2]”

“Enough, I’ll go.”

Su Nuan Nuan immediately gave in. Duan Tingxuan had defeated her with just a few lines of a poem. This guy really knew how to hit someone’s weak point. She had already been to Jiang Nan a few times in her previous life, but… what is Jiang Nan like in this era?

She really wanted to see it just once, ah. Especially in spring, when the grass was long and the sky filled with bird songs. The trees and bushes bursting with colour and life. Oh, to see a spring morning after a night of rain. To explore the narrow alleys and hear the voices of flower girls, pick through their wares in artfully arranged baskets for the perfect dew-covered apricot flower…

“Very good, it’s decided.” Duan Tingxuan was incredibly cheerful at the success of his strategy. He patted Su Nuan Nuan’s hand once and said, “You’re too weak, ah. I’ve barely gone past three lines and you’ve already agreed. You didn’t even give me the opportunity to recite the rest of the 70 to 80 verses I’ve already memorized.” How typical of this male who still wanted to show off after getting a great deal.

“I have a question.” Su Nuan Nuan also felt that her staying power was too weak. But, to be honest she really wanted to go out and explore the world a little. It really didn’t matter whether it was to frolic about with Duan Tingxuan at Jiang Nan, or the secret investigation of this Long Pingzhang, or even the investigation of possible conspiracies of King Xiangyang, which might even reveal important evidence that would vindicate Su Meng Nuan’s parents. The most important thing here was this: Just what kind of special gourmet snacks could be found in the Jiang Nan of this era? Surely it would be different from the Jiang Nan of her time? She might even learn a few cooking tricks there!

“What question?” Duan Tingxuan was too overjoyed that Su Nuan Nuan had agreed to come with him and was happy to answer any questions.

“All this while, the only interest I have shown is cooking gourmet food and eating. How did you know that I also like romantic things like poetry? You seemed very confident that I’d be defeated by a few lines of poems.” Su Nuan Nuan was truly curious. To be honest, her romantic cells and foodie cells were almost at par, but just how did Duan Tingxuan found out?

“Last time at Pushan Temple, the night was incredibly cold, but you still want to prance about under the moon to collect dew. Only an unrestrained romantic would do such a stupid thing enthusiastically…”

He hadn’t finished speaking when he felt killing intent. The little marquis blinked, and knew he had spoken too much. Duan Tingxuan quickly stood up, “That… ah, I just remembered. I still need to speak with second brother about some business dealings. Please excuse me.” with that, he ran away from an extremely pissed off Su Nuan Nuan.

“Wei, wei, wei!” Su Nuan Nuan shouted, but Duan Tingxuan pretended he didn’t hear anything, legging it out of the court like a passing whirlwind. Angry and amused, she muttered, “I still haven’t said anything, aren’t you just jumping to conclusions?”

Having nothing better to do, she picked up her sewing from the kang bed and began to absentmindedly continue with her embroidery. Her heart had already flown all the way to her spring trip in Jiang Nan. Ah, Jiang Nan in February would be especially beautiful, right? The full moon nights would surely be gorgeous, right? Ah, but just what kind of disguise is Duan Tingxuan planning to don? Surely he was not going as a fisherman, right? Will she have to be a fisherman’s wife?

Whatever, Su Nuan Nuan’s interest had already been piqued. Her earlier excitement for the new year had already been eclipsed by the much more exciting prospect of this Jiang Nan outing.

 

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“Madam has worked hard today. Normally the masters would have a few leisure days before the new year, but to think that madam is personally working in the kitchen with us. How could we stand it, ah?”

The 26th of the twelfth month was snack making day.

In the wee hours of the morning, Su Nuan Nuan had brought Xiang Yun over to the kitchens and had been busy giving instructions to the kitchen hands on several different kinds of snacks. Aside from the popular Dough Twist, Golden Thread Pastries and Snow Soft Bean Paste Snacks, there were triangular fried pastries called Fried Puffs[3] stuffed with different kinds of fillings. There were some pastry dough from the Fried Puffs leftover, which she had the servants make into different shapes according to their imagination, fried and sprinkled with sugar while still hot, creating a completely different kind of Fragrant Crispy Pastries. Since Duan Tingye wanted to sell the Fresh Flower Pastries, those could not be made in the main kitchen. But, aside from that, there were plenty of other snacks to make: Siu Mai, Pumpkin Pies, Red Date Rice Cake and Peanut Crisp for example.

Naturally, Ms. Xue continued to do her best to flatter Su Nuan Nuan. She personally moved a clean chair over for her benefactor, handed her hot tea and two plates of freshly fried snacks. After Su Nuan Nuan sipped her tea, she said in a low voice, “I shall leave everything in this kitchen to you. Once I leave, make sure everyone stays busy. It’s best that there’s enough so that everyone in the household gets a share. On the 28th, once you have dealt with everything in the kitchen, I need you in my small kitchen for two days. We still need to make some Fresh Flower Pastries. We can’t pass the new year with just ordinary snacks, right?”

“These are still considered ordinary? These Fragrant Fried Pastries and Stuffed Triangles are things I never had before…” Ms. Xue was incredibly excited over these new food items, but Su Nuan Nuan merely shook her head. “These already exist in the southern region, Guang Dong and Guang Xi, even if I don’t show you, you’ll find them here sooner or later. Anyway, just make sure to come to my kitchen on the 28th and I will show you a true new recipe.

To be honest, I really want to make it in this big kitchen, but your second master treats this recipe as though it’s a national secret. If I insisted on making it here, he wants to send bodyguards and even have people watch over different sections of the kitchen. Whatever, since he didn’t want people to find out, I can only ask you to come over to my place. I have all the ingredients at my place already, so we can start the moment you come over.”

“Yes, madam please be at ease, even if this one has to forego sleep, this one will make sure that everything is properly completed by the 28th. The second master is right, we must do all we can to keep this recipe a secret since it’s an important element of the An Ping business.”

Ms. Xue happily promised. She finally understood why Su Nuan Nuan had been asking for all kinds of ingredients in this past few days. Of course, they were all carefully packed and sent over without question. Back in the kitchen, she was all fired up, and the 12 kitchen hands ended up working even more frantically than before.

 

[Gumihou: Yay! Su Nuan Nuan is cooking again!]

 

 

[1] The sins of heavens are forgiven, the sins of man ends in death – You can run away from natural disasters, but you cannot run away from your own wrong doing

[2] A real poem written by poet Lu You (1125-1209) – I did my best to translate, but probably didn’t do it justice… T_T

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lu_You

[3] Fried Puffs – Asian style fried pastry puffs. Could be found in India and Southeast Asia, made with different kinds of dough and filling, but generally triangular in shape and the filling could be sweet or savoury. Check out a popular Chicken Curry Puff from Malaysia/Singapore. Celia from Foodelicacy also gave a very detailed account of the general history and variation of the fried puff. Yum!

https://www.foodelicacy.com/chicken-curry-puffs/

 

Other food found in this chapter~

Fried Dough Twist – Mentioned at Chapter 144

Flaky Golden Thread Biscuits – Mentioned Chapter 144

Snow Soft Bean Paste Snacks – First mentioned in Chapter 24

You can have the recipe by clicking on the pic ~

 

 

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Translated by Gumihou from kitchennovel dot com.

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