Extra Part 1: Zhua Zhou Fun
Translated by Gumihou
Edited by Onionpi
Please read this at kitchennovel dot com
Time flowed like water. In a blink of an eye, little Duan Maozheng was about to celebrate his first birthday.
Early that morning, Su Nuan Nuan was already up and about even before the sun had risen. While she was running around trying to get ready for the celebration, she happened to catch sight of the little marquis who was already properly dressed up for court. Husband and wife took a little time to coo and scatter some dog food  with each other. The maids standing by outside, waiting to come in to help Su Nuan Nuan with her toilette felt goose pimples popping up all over their skin at this lovey-dovey exchange. Finally, the little marquis reluctantly left for morning court.
Su Nuan Nuan was at her dressing table, with Xiang Yun combing out her hair, when the beaded curtain was pushed aside and a very familiar voice said, “How about letting me do it? Xiang Yun, you go and see whether the little master is ready.” It was Hong Lian.
Hong Lian was dressed in the manner appropriate for a married woman with her hair tucked into a proper bun. She looked even more charming and dignified now. Su Nuan Nuan smiled and said, “It’s still your honeymoon, why are you so early today? Is your husband going to hate me for making you get up so early?”
Hong Lian pursed her lips and grinned, “He wouldn’t dare.” Servant and made exchanged a smile at that.
Hong Lian came over and took down Su Nuan Nuan’s hair and began running a comb through the long hair. With a little smile, she said, “However, Missy shouldn’t treat him unjustly either. We have already talked about it yesterday and we agreed that I should come early today since it’s the little master’s first birthday. So, of course, it’s worth getting up early for such an auspicious day. I was worried that Missy would be too busy and came to see if I could be of help.”
“Yes, it’s going to be a very lively and busy day. Yesterday, Concubine Jing spent half the day briefing me over the details for today. Apparently, a lot of it had been simplified. Not that I believed her, there are still too many things needed to be done. Who are the people who set out the rules for all these ceremonies? Are they trying to tire us to death while showing off the grandeur of the An Ping Estate? Fortunately, I have Concubine Jing to manage the estate. Otherwise, I’d die from overwork if those random people keep coming to bother me, I might not have time to see Zheng’er grow up.”
Hong Lian smiled, “Since it’s such an auspicious day, surely it’s better for Missy to speak of good things only? Yi? Is this a new hairpin from the Master? It must be something from the Imperial Household Department. For the sake of eating your food, that Fourth Prince sure is willing to pay quite a high price.”
The two were happily chatting together when Concubine Jing pushed the beaded curtain open. She said, “Oh, Madam is freshening up…”
Suddenly, she noticed what Su Nuan Nuan was wearing and cried out, “Why are you wearing this? No, no, no, you can’t. I’ve already ordered the sewing people to make two sets of palace outfits just for today. Where are they? Cong’er, go and fetch the palace outfits and help Madam into them.”
“S… surely there’s no need? Can’t I just wear those for the New Year?” Su Nuan Nuan puffed up her cheeks until they looked like buns, but Concubine Jing refused to back down. “Of course not, how can you wear such thin clothing during the New Year? Madam, please don’t argue with me anymore. There will be a lot of noblewomen and young girls at the ceremony. Your dress is the face of our Estate. No matter how tiring, you must make the sacrifice.”
“You’re also the Lord’s concubine, aren’t you too shabbily dressed?” Su Nuan Nuan pointed an accusative finger at Concubine Jing, “don’t use the excuse of me being the official wife to get out of wearing those awful things. If I must suffer, I’ll have you suffer with me too! Or have you forgotten that you’re supposed to greet the guests with me?”
“This concubine will be busy with all kinds of work in the background, those kinds of clothing will only weigh me down, so of course I must wear lighter clothes. Don’t worry, you only have to wear the palace outfit for the main ceremony. You may change into other clothes later. Madam, please don’t worry, this concubine will be as tired as you at the end of the day.” Concubine Jing said coolly. How could she not see through Su Nuan Nuan’s ‘generosity’ to let her wear palace clothes as well? She hid a little smile at this woman’s childish antics.
“May this one ask why is Madam Concubine here?” Hong Lian prompted gently from the side.
This little reminder caused Concubine Jing to recall her true motive and handed a list to Su Nuan Nuan, “Madam, please have a look at this. These are the articles for Little Master Zheng’s Zhua Zhou Ceremony . If you are fine with it, I shall personally pick out the very best we have in the estate.”
“Oh? Very good, let me have a look.” Su Nuan Nuan glanced through the list and frowned. “Why have you included snacks and steamed buns? In fact, why are there so many edible items? Take them away, take them all away. Just leave the writing brush, paper, inkstone, gold ingot, silver locket and jade tokens.”
“There are only two edible items on the list. That’s not many. What ceremony is complete without steamed buns and snacks? Anyway, if Madam doesn’t like it, I shall have them place a single plate of Crystal Osmanthus Cake and one steamed bun only. I’ll also make sure to put those far away from the child. No matter what, we must have those. It’s part of the rules.”
Of course, Concubine Jing knew what Su Nuan Nuan was thinking. Though thoroughly amused by this petty behaviour, she nevertheless handed out this compromise. As expected, Su Nuan Nuan nodded in satisfaction, “Good idea.”
Concubine Jing bustled off with her win. Less than an hour later, noble guests from various aristocratic families began to arrive one after another. Su Nuan Nuan appeared in a luxurious brocade dress, heavily embroidered with phoenixes done in gold thread. Red butterflies seemed to flutter on her white pleated skirt. Exquisite pearls swayed from her hairpin. In short, she looked like a walking talking red packet  as she fell in line to greet the guests.
Though she felt cheesy in this ostentatious costume, she still drew praises from the female guests. They even asked after the tailor and jewellery shop that made her clothes and hairpin.
Soon, the North Court was filled with people, but there were still more people coming in. Concubine Jing and Shi Yurou had also dressed up and had been helping Su Nuan Nuan entertained their distinguished guests while also dealing with all the little emergencies that would inevitably pop up.
However, there were just too many guests and Su Nuan Nuan was starting to sweat from the effort of smiling and making small talk. She waved Hong Lian over and said, “Send someone over to the Buddhist Hall, what is taking Concubine Jiang so long? Get her to hurry up and put her to work so that at least the Branch Lady and Concubine Jing gets to take a rest. Not even Zhou Bapi’s  workers are as exploited as us, ah.”
Hong Lian smiled and was about to carry out the order when they saw Concubine Jiang came rushing in. Just like the rest of the ladies, she was dressed in bright red, but after having lived in the tranquil Buddhist Hall for over a year, there was a touch of gentleness and tranquillity in her expression that was not there in the past. She came to greet Su Nuan Nuan first and congratulated her for her son’s first birthday ceremony before leaning over to whisper, “Fan’er and Sen’er brought Chuan’er over to see Madam Lan and me at the Buddhist hall. They were quite rowdy for a while, so this one is a little late.”
“Where are they now?”
Su Nuan Nuan asked. Though these children were all hers in name, they no longer stayed at Spring Breeze Court. They have all moved back with their blood mother or to some other places within the estate. Su Nuan Nuan was still concerned about the psychological effects of having lost their mothers so early in their lives. When she heard that the boys had especially paid a visit to Concubine Jiang and Madam Lan that morning, she was quite worried. would the ceremony trigger some unintentional memories? Aih, children need so much care, even those not born by her.
“They have all gone to the front all. Each of them is like a little adult. They all said that they wanted to help the Lord and the Lord Marquis to greet the guests. I swear, they are too smart for their own good and knew that the Lord Marquis would call them over. We were making our way here when runners came over with the message they were all called to the front hall.”
“So the children are all fine?” Su Nuan Nuan finally calmed down, but she still wanted some verbal confirmation from Concubine Jiang.
Concubine Jiang nodded, “Madam, please be at ease. Their emotions are very stable. They’ve even made a little toy for Zheng’er. I’ve asked Rong’er to include it in the Zhua Zhou items. No matter what, it shows the boys’ good intentions, right?”
“Oh, oh, oh, that’s very good.” Su Nuan Nuan nodded happily. After spending some time greeting the guests with Concubine Jiang, Concubine Jing and Shi Yurou returned. With the four of them, along with Madam Yang and Liu Min, the task of greeting and entertaining the guests was soon spread out.
When the auspicious hour arrived, it was time for the Zhua Zhou Ceremony to begin. The noblewomen and graceful ladies of the aristocracy stirred as Su Nuan Nuan brought her plump little son into the Zhua Zhou room. The ladies all cooed and admired her son’s beautiful black eyes and plump red cheeks.
As she made her way towards the specially prepared platform with a table full of goods, she whispered to her son, “I say, my precious little boy. No matter what you must look after mother and father’s face, you hear? You might not know it, but ever since you’re born, those bored gossipers of the Capital have nothing to do but to try and predict today’s result. They all said that since your parents are both foodies, the first thing you’re bound to grab must be the steamed bun. Do you know that this means?
It’s contempt, ah. Those busybodies are openly showing their contempt to your father and mother for having given birth to a greedy foodie, ah. In order to seize back our honour, I, your mother have never allowed anything that resembled steamed buns or snacks to cross your sight. Naturally, since you can’t eat them, it’s meaningless for you to look upon these treats… But, the most important thing is that you won’t recognise these things. Therefore, you won’t be interested in them. After all, how could these things be more interesting than silver lockets, jade pendants and writing brushes? There’s also the very fun and exciting illustrated books personally drawn by your father, right? Right?”
The bold and fearless First Madam, who had never been afraid of anything ever since coming into this world felt slightly nervous as she brought Duan Maozheng over. Her husband, seemingly oblivious to her fears, said with a smile, “The auspicious hour has arrived. Nuan Nuan, let Zheng’er go and grab whatever he likes. I’m really looking forward to see what he would reach for.”
Su Nuan Nuan nodded, and bravely lowered the child onto the specially prepared platform. As expected, the little guy steadied himself against the railing and then began to wobble his way towards the table piled with various items. He was steadier than most child his age and soon reached the table. The little boy glanced at the table full of items and then began to make his way steadily towards one end. His goal was very clear to everyone.
“No… no… Oh my gawd !”
Su Nuan Nuan’s eyes went wide and one hand covered her mouth, but it was not enough to stop the wail that erupted straight from the bottom of her heart. It was too late. In the next moment, Little Duan Maozheng had grabbed a fish-shaped bun, dyed bright red with cherry juice, and was now beaming proudly at his rapt audience. Then, he opened his mouth wide and chomped down on the carp’s head.
“No… please no…”
“My… my heavens, ah. My little ancestor, please put that down, ah.”
The scene soon degenerated into chaos. Amongst the good-natured laughter, Su Nuan Nuan covered her eyes and cried bitterly to the little marquis, “I’ve done my best to never let him see a single steamed bun, ah. How in the heavens did he recognise it so quickly? He was so fast and accurate, he didn’t even hesitate… Wuwuwu, I swear to heaven, ah…”
“Alright, alright, it’s possible that Zheng’er is interested in the steamed bun because he had never seen one before. He must find the brilliant red thing very fresh and interesting. Don’t be sad, heaven’s will is not your fault.”
“You’re right, it’s not my fault. Which bastard make that red fish-shaped steamed bun? Huh? And to make it so prettily, too. It makes sense that children would always go for bright and shiny things, right? Therefore, it’s not my fault. It’s the kitchen’s fault. They could have just put a couple of plain white buns, ah. Why on earth did they make it so pretty?”
First Madam allowed her husband to lure her into a false of sense of righteousness and began to avoid responsibility. Just then, Concubine Jing hurried over and carefully plucked the red steamed bun from Little Master Zheng’s mouth and waved other shiny things before him. The little boy obligingly reached for the writing brush and books as well as other innocuous items. Thus, helping First Madam to assuage her loss of face…
[Gumihou: …. Nuan Nuan…]
 dog food – be lovey dovey and annoy the single people
 Zhua Zhou Ceremony – a ceremony of placing various items before an infant (brushes, abacus, etc) on their first birthday to see which one they pick up to see what the child would grow up to become (A brush indicates scholar, abacus a merchant etc)
And yes, Su Nuan Nuan just tried to ‘cheat’ a Zhua Zhou Ceremony
 Red packet – the little pouches containing money given out during New Year. We use envelopes now since money is made from paper. In the olden days, it was literally a little red cloth pouch, so the imagery fits even more. Nowadays, you can give virtual ‘red packets’ online, lol.
 Zhou Bapi – A despicable landlord invented by writer Gao Yubao in a story called ‘The Cry of the Midnight’, To make his long-term workers do more work, he will make the rooster crow in the middle of the night to wake them up. In the past, there was no reliable way to keep time at night, and people just get up when the cock crows.
 Oh my gawd – this one has me stumped for a while. Because of how out of place ‘buying cakes’ is under such a situation. However, if you read 买糕 in the pinyin, it’s mai gaw = my gawd… Lol, what the heck author-san?
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(The End! For real this time)
(…so let’s start on a new story!)