Chapter 80: Invite for a Meal
Translated by Gumihou
Please read this at kitchennovel dot com
Once the mess was cleaned up, Duan Tingxuan proceeded to subtly grill Duan Xinqu about the earlier matter. This little sister of his told her tale most enthusiastically, her little face animated and her story line clear. The little marquis listened and watched, feeling very moved by her liveliness. Thanks to his wife’s quick witted kindness, this once weak and cowardly sister of his had bloomed into a vivacious creature.
He was still feeling thankful when Xiang Yun came in, followed by a young maid with swollen cheeks. The unknown maid immediately knelt at the sight of Duan Tingxuan.
Xian Yun explained, “Mistress said that master had once remarked upon the lack of servants in Chun Feng Court. This one is called Xing’er, she used to work for the branch lady, but as she was unable to get along with those people’s way of thinking we might as well have her work here. We beg for master and second master’s understanding, it would be bad to have a maid who could not go along with existing servants and disturb branch lady’s eyes. Please don’t think that our Missy was being overbearing, this is all for second lady’s sake. If a servant doesn’t match well with their master, they could be easily angered…”
Duan Tingxuan waved at her words, “Fine, fine, your mistress is too good with her words. Even her servants follow in her footsteps. Since the branch house lady doesn’t like her, and your mistress thinks she could get along with that maid let her stay. If things don’t work out, we can always sell her off.”
Xing’er immediately kowtowed in thanks. Xiang Yun smiled and led her away, leaving Duan Tingxuan frowning.
Before long, a wonderful fragrance drifted out. Hong Lian came to the living room to invite them to the dining hall. Duan Xinqu smiled, “Sister Hong Lian, what wonderful thing did sister-in-law made this time? The smell is so fragrant and irresistible, almost like chive stuffed dumplings, but not quite.”
“We do have chive stuffing, but it’s not dumplings. Young miss will know soon as you enter. This maid will not spoil the surprise for you.” Hong Lian laughed lightly as she led the them into into the dining hall. On the table were four hot dishes and two cold dishes, in the middle of the round table was a huge platter of something golden and freshly fried. There was also a huge bowl of vermicelli soup topped with tofu and bok choi.
Duan Xinqu smiled, “As expected of sister-in-law. What are these bright golden things here? Surely you haven’t fried the chives?”
Su Nuan Nuan warmly bade everyone to sit, pulling Duan Xinqu over to sit next to her. Her quick chopsticks snagged one of the golden things, plopping it into Duan Xinqu’s bowl. With a smile, she said, “Naturally, we can’t fry chives, these are stuffed eggplants.”
She was still explaining when the little marquis howled, “Delicious! Delicious! Sss, Nuan Nuan, what’s this whatever thing? It’s so delicious, it’s even more delicious than stuffed chive dumplings, ssss.” Clearly the little marquis was too impatient to wait for the eggplants to cool down and was now hissing like a tea kettle.
Duan Tingfang still haven’t reached out with with his chopsticks yet. He was too busy staring at this normally dignified and restrained elder brother transforming into a this devourer monster who shouted out every little feeling into the world like a common labourer. This young and tender third young master once more suffered another shock to the heart. He looked over at Su Nuan Nuan, and thought: It’s one thing for elder sister-in-law to have change so much after her near death experience, but, the way eldest brother and second sister change along with her is nothing short of magical. Surely even a fox spirit couldn’t do such an incredible job?
“Slow down, you. Nobody is competing with you for the food. And what’s all this shouting and screaming? Isn’t it just too shameful, ah?” Su Nuan Nuan threw a thin handkerchief at Duan Tingxuan, who ignored it to snatched up another stuffed eggplant.
He smiled, and said, “Who said no one is competing with me? There’s you and now second sister and third brother. Aren’t these my competitors? Luckily that greedy cat is currently out of commission, otherwise that thing alone will swallow ten of these. I’ve told you to restrain yourself when feeding that thing. It’s all meat and fish and sausages and ham all day, everyday. No wonder it turned into a fatty in just a few days. Humph, very good, even a dignified, hard working heir like me never had it so well. Isn’t it unfair for a cat who never did any work or made any contribution to the house to compete over food with me?”
Clearly the little marquis was still harbouring some semblance of envy and grievances against Zhao Chai. Duan Tingfang and Duan Xinqu were nearly shocked silly by this remark. Su Nuan Nuan cut through the silly atmosphere, “Right, right, everyone eat quickly. Your brother is like a starving wolf, anything that he likes will disappear in seconds so be quick about it.”
As if to prove her right, Duan Tingxuan swallowed another stuffed eggplant whole. Suddenly, his head popped up and he struck his the bowl with his chopstick, “We haven’t sent any to mother and grandmother.”
A dangerous smiled appeared on Su Nuan Nuan’s lips, she pointed at the greedy, rascally man with her chopsticks, nearly stabbing him in the mouth, “Just focus on eating. I you have the brain space to think about others, you may give your portion as filial consideration. I am not a goddess, I can’t create stuffed eggplants from thin air.
We need stuffing, eggplants, and other ingredients. Though the recipe is not as labour intensive as dumplings we still need actual ingredients. We can only send whatever is left on the table to them.”
Duan Tingxuan immediately smiled, “It’s been such a hard week for my wife. I will be free the next two days, if you have any labour intensive jobs need doing, I will be completely at your disposal.”
“That’s better.” Su Nuan Nuan harrumphed. She turned to Duan Xinqu and asked, “Is it good?”
“Very delicious.” Second miss nodded enthusiastically, her head bobbing like a pecking chicken. “Sister-in-law, please teach me how to make this, I want to learn from you.”
“This thing is called stuffed eggplant. The most important part is the stuffing, the ingredients are simple, minced pork, chives and table salt only. No other seasoning is needed, or you will destroy the fresh taste of chives and pork. Thickly cut the eggplants, then make a slit on the side, make sure you don’t slice it through and put the stuffing here. Roll the eggplants thickly in flour, you have to make sure it’s thickly covered in flour before frying them to get this golden colour.”
Su Nuan Nuan held nothing back as she casually handed over the recipe to Duan Xinqu, who listened raptly.
After lunch, Duan Tingfang and Duan Xinqu made their excuses. Su Nuan Nuan wanted an afternoon nap, and did not stop them. At the door, she said to Duan Xinqu, “We’re short of time today, so didn’t make a lot of the stuffed eggplants. Aside from old madam, we didn’t send any to anyone else. Not even elder madam. I’ll make more tonight, and send some to your mother as thanks for those lovely shoes.”
Duan Tingfang was expressionless, “I dare not, the shoes are concubine mother’s return gift for you, if you grant us something else she’ll be troubled.”
“We’re all one family, and it’s just a bit of side dish, what’s to trouble over?” Su Nuan Nuan looked over at Duan Tingfang and frowned. “Third brother, your eccentric manner of speaking will one day get you beaten up. Lucky for you I’m much more good natured than before, otherwise there’s no way I’ll ever let you cross my doorway again. Now, I hear you are a scholar. When at school be sure to speak modestly and with care so as not to be targeted. Do you expect your brother to bail you out when something happen? The one who will it the loss in the end will be you.”
Duan Tingfang’s cold and gloomy expression disappeared in a flash. Though he dearly liked to argue back, he really didn’t know where to begin. In a few blinks, he had lost his opportunity to speak up since Su Nuan Nuan was already striding away.
At this point, Duan Xinqu quickly and discreetly tugged her brother away. Third young master fairly oozes with icy gloom and directed a half hearted glare at his sister. “Just what right did your sister-in-law has to call me eccentric? Just how am I eccentric? And how dare she calls herself good natured? Would a good natured person storm up to someone’s place and and beat up their servants over a cat? If she’s good natured, then elder madam and Madam Min are Guanyin. Humph, no self awareness at all.”
He had just finished his angry speech when a light sparkle of laughter reached his ears, Duan Tingfang looked at his sister with disbelief, “You, you, what are you laughing at? Is it funny to see your brother mistreated like this?”
Duan Xinqu immediately swallowed her laughter, but her eyes were like crescent moons as she said, “I just discovered that my dear elder brother looks quite good when he lost his temper.” When Duan Tingfang rolled his eyes at her remark, she continued, “If elder brother really thinks that he’s being mistreated, I wish for brother to be bullied like this everyday and not suffer elder madam and Madam Min’s Buddha like kindness.”
Duan Tingfang still felt wronged, “I, I was just making a comparison. How could I not know that elder madam looked down on us, or that Madam Min hates that she could not stomp us into the earth.”
“That’s right,” Duan Xinqu clasped her hand behind her back, her fair cheeks, smooth as an egg, raised up to admire the sunlight filtering through swaying leaves overhead and said quietly, “Elder madam has her reasons. Madam Min is the most hypocritical, one moment treating us like worms that had just crawled out from the mud, and then shedding crocodile tears over our plight next. Brother, don’t you think elder sister-in-law’s words are refreshingly frank? I like the way she speaks.
I even like the way she reprimands you. It’s not like what she said is wrong, ah. Didn’t concubine mother adviced you to make friends in school so that you may have a better future? You’ll have to depend on friends once you start making your way in the future. I know that you have one or two so-called friends, but even I can tell that they are merely sticking to you for your connections as the marquis’ son. Surely you know this too, could it be that you’re happy to call these people friends?”
“Enough.” Duan Tingfang’s face was pale, his voice curt. Duan Xinqu wisely stayed silent, she thought, this brother of mine had always been sensitive. In the past, she had not dared to give voice to her concerns even as it pained her heart. Under sister-in-law’s influence, she had finally gathered the courage to open her little mouth. Enough was said for now, her brother had nurtured this attitude of his for 18 years as the bastard son of the marquis, it would take time to change things. The fact that he was willing to come to sister-in-law’s place was good enough.
After a short, tensed silence, Duan Xinqu waved her little hand quickly, dispelling the gloomy atmosphere, “Fine, fine, fine, please stop that. Come to think of it, don’t you think eldest brother treated you very well today?”
“Still want to talk.” Duan Tingfang levelled a menacing eye at his sister. When it looked like his sister had finally ceased to answer back, he gave a cold harrumph and marched home. However, his brain never stopped whirring: Eldest brother said he will gift me a good ink stone. Whether it will happen or not remains to be seen. It’s entirely possible that it’s just a great heir’s careless remark, to be forgotten as soon as it was uttered. Duan Tingfang, ah, Duan Tingfang, it’s just an ink stone. Do you really think it really meant anything?
[Gumihou: Poor Duan Tingfang, he must have been burnt too many times. I want to cuddle him]