“Alright. I’ll be back soon, so help me keep an eye on the stove!” Sang Wan sighed to herself and hurried to Ning Garden1Ning GardenSang Wan & Shi Fengju's place of residence.
Once she had handed the keys back to Shi Fengju, she hurriedly returned to the kitchen. Knowing that she had to prepare the dishes for tonight’s dinner, Shi Fengju remained silent and let her continue with her cooking.
On the route back to the kitchen, Sang Wan gradually slowed her pace.
The flame strength and duration for both dishes on the stove were different. The distance between her stove and Liu Ya’s stove was far, and Zhide had already promised to look after her stove when she was away. Under such circumstances, she could not request Liu Ya keep an eye on her stove. It would definitely embarrass Zhide! Moreover, the winter melon soup had already been gone from her sight for a long time. And since Zhide wasn’t her, who was extremely wary of her surroundings due to her past life’s experiences, if someone wanted to tamper with her soup, that person would have had ample time to do so during her absence.
Regardless of whether that soup had actually been tampered with, she could not afford to take that risk!
By any chance if Wang Shi were to develop red rashes after eating the soup she made, the result was not something she’d like to experience again!
The winter melon soup must not be served.
So what should she do?
Sang Wan lifted her head to look at the vast empty sky as the sun gradually set in the west, emitting a bright orange glow across the horizon. The view was like a beautiful dream and yet, all Sang Wan could feel was the coming of a nightmare.
Her gaze fell suddenly onto a large flourishing tree. With that, her eyes glistened in triumph. That was a Chinese mahogany tree. She remembered that her mother-in-law not only loved winter melon soup, but also bean curd with Chinese mahogany. Unfortunately, the leaves on that tree were no longer young; the season to eat bean curd with Chinese mahogany was already over!
However, her face gradually brightened and her will firmed up. Her lips hooked to a side and she sneered. Tonight, she would make bean curd with Chinese mahogany!
There were no Chinese mahogany shoots to be used, but the bark of the old Chinese mahogany tree could still be boiled. Once boiled, the water was then filtered before soaking the shoots of the Chinese leafy vegetables for around two minutes. After soaking the shoots, the Chinese leafy vegetables were chopped finely and it would look similar to when Chinese mahogany shoots were used. As for the bean curd, boiling it in the Chinese mahogany flavored water before taking it out and mixing it together with the chopped Chinese leafy vegetables would add further flavor. With the significant Chinese mahogany taste, the dish could be confused as an actual dish of bean curd with Chinese mahogany.
In her past life, Gu Fangzi had also made this dish for Wang Shi when there was no Chinese mahogany to be used. Once Wang Shi had tasted it, she was delighted and praised Gu Fangzi for being skillful in her cooking. Today, Sang Wan would follow her example, which didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Sang Wan’s mind was set. She immediately called for a strong maidservant to peel two big pieces of bark from the old Chinese mahogany tree before taking the two pieces to the kitchen herself and preparing the dish with the method that her memory of Gu Fangzi had explained to Wang Shi. Her actions attracted amazed and curious gazes from Servant Jian and several other kitchen staff.
When it was time for the winter melon soup to be served, Sang Wan slyly stepped and released the long skirt of one of the kitchen staff before quietly fading back from the eyes of the kitchen staff. The servant whose skirt she had stepped on gasped and knocked into the maidservant who was about to serve the winter melon soup to Wang Shi’s table. As she lost her balance, the winter melon soup in her hands fell and splattered onto the floor.
The commotion alarmed the people within the kitchen and they looked in the direction of the commotion. Their faces instantly changed and they worriedly looked at one another.
“This servant should be punished! This servant should be punished!”
“This servant didn’t do it on purpose. This servant——”
The maidservant and the kitchen staff were both scared out of their wits. One pleaded guiltily and the other tried to justify herself; both were completely out of their minds. That dish was not any ordinary dish; it was a dish prepared by a newlywed daughter-in-law, that was to be served to her mother-in-law as a sign of competency. Nothing they could do would let them off easily. Knowing that, the two immediately kneeled on the floor.
Sang Wan remained silent and her eyebrow was raised slightly. Pursing her lips, she displayed an indifferent expression.
She was this family’s new daughter-in-law. Using her position to reprimand them would certainly look arrogant, but if she were to let them go too easily, she would lose her dignity. As such, remaining silent to express her dissatisfaction and displeasure would be the most appropriate.
In her past life, she had been too gentle and kind, and was thus stepped on by people. Many people were like that; fear had to come before respect.
But once all authority was lost, recovery would never be easy!
Anyway, someone would definitely speak if she remained silent.
Servant Jian secretly winced. She was the head of the kitchen staff; if the servants beneath her were to stir up trouble, she would also have to bear responsibility. Stepping up quickly, she gave the two a scolding before turning to Sang Wan and bowing as she apologized.
With a smile, she spoke. “These two servants will not go unpunished; rest assured Young Mistress, this old maidservant here will punish them most severely until you are satisfied! Still, things have ended up this way and the winter melon soup— Hēhē, if I may, luckily, Young Mistress is farsighted and made bean curd with Chinese mahogany. This old servant suggests serving the steamed mandarin fish together with the bean curd with Chinese mahogany! Young Mistress, at this moment, dinner is of importance. Dinner will commence shortly! These two wretched maidservants will definitely not be let off easily!”
The moment Servant Jian spoke, the rest of the kitchen staff helped plead for leniency and the two who were kneeling on the floor kept apologizing profusely. As the maidservants were still young, they sobbed and almost cried as they apologized.
Sang Wan had seen enough and sighed helplessly. “Servant Jian is right; my mother-in-law’s dinner is of importance. This isn’t the time to talk about such things!” Her sight fell onto the inedible winter melon soup and she sighed as she expressed a sense of helplessness and dismay.
Seeing her actions, Servant Jian and the two ‘culprits’ felt even more ashamed. Clenching her teeth, Servant Jian spoke generously. “Young Mistress, these two servants could not stay out of trouble at such an important occasion. However Young Mistress would like to punish them, please instruct and this old servant will carry it out unconditionally!”
Deep down, Servant Jian screamed about her unluckiness. The only way to ease Sang Wan’s mind would be to give her the reins. That way, not only would it provide Sang Wan with an opportunity to let off some steam and feel better, it would also save herself from Sang Wan’s anger.
“Oh? You’ll do as I say unconditionally?” Sang Wan raised her eyebrow and smiled faintly at Servant Jian.
Servant Jian’s heart began to beat loudly and she suddenly felt a little regretful of what she had just said. However, since the words had already left her mouth, she had to bite the bullet and she nodded without a choice. “Yes, Young Mistress, this old servant will do so unconditionally!”
Sang Wan smirked and spoke to the two frightened servants who were kneeling on the ground. “The two of you can relax now! I can see that you’re both honest servants, and since this is nothing but a small accident, I shall not punish the two of you!”
The two servants were bewildered and gazed at each other as if they had heard wrongly.
The kitchen staff and Servant Jian heaved a big sigh of relief. With a big grin, Servant Jian laughed. “Why are both of you still kneeling? Stand up quickly, or are you waiting for Young Mistress to help you up?” With that, she turned to Sang Wan and smiled, “Thank you, Young Mistress, for your kindness! Our Young Mistress is truly big-hearted!”
“Thank you, Young Mistress, for your kindness!” The two knocked into each other’s head while climbing onto their feet and laughed as if waking up from a nightmare.
Sang Wan’s gaze returned to Servant Jian and she smiled. “They may be able to get off the hook, but being the head of the kitchen, that shouldn’t be the case for you. Am I right?”
“Young Mistress, that…” Servant Jian’s relieved heart tightened once again. Her eyes widened as she stared at Sang Wan and a bitter taste gathered in her mouth.
Just what was the meaning of this? Never had there been anyone who let a sinning maidservant off but punished the overseer! The kitchen staff, and the two servants who had been spared, stared at Sang Wan in disbelief.
Sang Wan smiled, “As for the punishment, it’s very simple. You’ve been working in the kitchen for many years, am I right?” Seeing Servant Jian nod, she went on, “Then in the future, I would like to have you teach me how to cook some of the other dishes. As a daughter-in-law, I ought to respect and serve both my mother-in-law and my husband well. For that, Servant Jian, will you teach me?”
“Āiyō, Young Mistress!” The moment Lady Jian heard her punishment, her expression relaxed and she patted her chest. With a smile, she laughed, “Young Mistress, your joke went a little too far; it almost scared this old servant to death! Of course I will. Any time Young Mistress comes to the kitchen, this old servant is willing to teach! As for Young Master and Old Mistress’s preferences and tastes, this old servant knows them like the back of my hand!”
“Young Mistress truly is filial!”
“Yes! Very virtuous!”
After the bad fright, the atmosphere loosened up and everyone could not help but started laughing.
Sang Wan followed and laughed before she waved her hand and spoke, “Enough. Everyone, please return to your work! It is almost time for the dishes to be served. Servant Jian, please oversee the distribution!”
“Rest assured, Young Mistress!” Servant Jian laughed.
Sang Wan smiled and nodded. After today’s incident, at the very least no one would dare to use any underhanded methods today, and even if that person was determined to do so, an opportunity would be hard to come by.
The table was set and the twelve dishes, together with a soup, were served neatly onto the table. In a corner sat Wang Shi, Shi Fengju, Shi Lian, and Gu Fangzi; the Second Shi family members were not present. Shi Fengju’s younger brother, Shi Fenghua, who studied in Yuanchang Academy, had returned for two days and had gone back to the academy after yesterday’s tea ceremony.
Sang Wan stood beside Wang Shi. She held a clean pair of silver-clad chopsticks in one hand and a white plate in the other; she was ready to attend to her mother-in-law. The two dishes that she had personally prepared were placed directly in front of Wang Shi.
Wang Shi had already caught wind that Gu Fangzi had told her daughter-in-law that she liked winter melon soup. But after glancing across the table, she did not see any winter melon soup. Because of that, she felt a little displeased.
To deliberately not make her favorite dish even though Sang Wan knew what it was. Just what was the meaning of this?
Originally, Sang Wan had planned to find a suitable time for her to justify her actions. However, upon seeing Wang Shi’s displeased expression, she cast that idea aside. Seizing the opportunity was of importance!
“Mother, your daughter-in-law had originally prepared the steamed mandarin fish and your favorite winter melon soup! However, because of a careless maidservant, the winter melon soup was knocked over! For that, it is my fault for not being careful! As such, this daughter-in-law has hurriedly prepared a bean curd with Chinese mahogany dish. Why don’t Mother have a taste to see whether the dish is to your liking?”
“Bean curd with Chinese mahogany?” Wang Shi’s attention was suddenly piqued. Glancing at the plate next to the steamed mandarin fish, she smiled. “Oh, is this it? Hēhē, from where did you get Chinese mahogany shoots in this season? But now that you’ve aroused my tastebuds, I’m starting to yearn for some bean curd with Chinese mahogany!”
“Mother, have a taste!” Seeing the big grin on Wang Shi’s face and that Wang Shi did not mention about the winter melon soup, Sang Wan understood that she had successfully overcome an ordeal. As she conversed, she carefully placed the pair of chopsticks on top of Wang Shi’s plate.
Wang Shi turned her head slightly to have a look at her daughter-in-law before smiling and picking up the chopsticks to have a taste of the dish. As she chewed, her eyes suddenly glistened and she nodded. “Not bad! Not bad! A bean curd with Chinese mahogany dish! Come, the lot of you, have a taste and tell me whether the taste is right!”
Once Wang Shi was elated, none dared to kill off that happiness in her. Tasting the dish with their chopsticks, they smiled and nodded.
“This sure is a mystery! Where did the mahogany shoots come from? Sang Wan, why don’t you explain to us how you made it?” Wang Shi asked teasingly.