Chapter 11: The Past She Cannot Avoid
“Alright. I’ll be back before you know it; so help me keep an eye on the stove!” Sang Wan sighed to herself and hurried back to the small garden.
Once she handed the keys back to Shi Fengju, she hurriedly headed back 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 down 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 were far apart; and Zhide had already promised to look after her stove when she was away… under such circumstances, she could not request Liu Ya to help keep an eye on her stove—- it would definitely embarrass Zhide! Moreover, the winter melon soup had already left her sight for such a long time. And since Zhide isn’t her, who is extremely wary of her surroundings due to her past life experiences, if someone were to tamper with her soup, that person would have had ample time to do so during her absence.
Regardless whether that soup was actually tampered, she cannot 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 I do?
Sang Wan lifted her head to look at the vast empty sky as the sun gradually sets 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 flourished tree. With that, her eyes glistened. That was a Chinese mahogany; she remembered that her mother-in-law not only loves 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 the will within her firmed up. Her lips hooked to a side and she sneered; tonight, she would make bean curd with Chinese mahogany!
There was no Chinese mahogany scions to be used, but the bark of that old Chinese mahogany tree can still be boiled. Once boiled, the water is then filtered before soaking the scions of the Chinese leafy vegetables for around two minutes. After soaking the scions, chop the Chinese leafy vegetables finely and it should look similar to when the Chinese mahogany scions were used. As for the bean curd, boil it in the Chinese mahogany flavored water before taking it out and mixing it together with the chopped Chinese leafy vegetables. 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 also made this dish for Wang Shi when there was no Chinese mahogany to be used. And once Wang Shi tasted it, she was delighted and praised Gu Fangzi for being skillful in her cooking. Today, she shall follow her example, which did not seem like a bad idea.
Sang Wan 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 prepared the dish in accordance with her memory of how Gu Fangzi explained to Wang Shi regarding the method to prepare it; which attracted the gaze filled with amazement and curiosity from Lady Jian and several other kitchen staff.
When it was time for the winter melon soup to be served, Sang Wan swiftly stepped and release her foot from a kitchen staff’s long skirt before quietly dodging from the eyes of the kitchen staff. The kitchen staff gasp and knocked into the maidservant who was about to serve the winter melon soup onto Wang Shi’s table. Losing her balance, the winter melon soup in her hand fell and splattered onto the floor.
The commotion alarmed the people within the kitchen and they gazed in the direction of the commotion. Their face instantly changed and they worriedly looked at one another.
“Nubi should be punished! Nubi should be punished!”
“Nubi didn’t do it on purpose. Nubi——”
The maidservant and kitchen staff were both scared out of their wits. One pleaded guilty and the other tried to justify herself; both were not in the right frame of mind. That dish was not any ordinary dish; it was a dish prepared as a newlywed daughter-in-law by their Ma’am which was to be served to her mother-in-law as a sign of competency. No words could let them off easily; knowing so, the two immediately kneel on the floor.
Sang Wan remained silent and her eyebrow was raised slightly. Pursing her lips up, she displayed an indifferent expression.
She was this family’s new daughter-in-law. With the use of her position to reprimand them would certainly look arrogant; but if she were to let them go too easily, she’ll lose her dignity. As such, remaining silent to express her dissatisfaction and displeasure would be the most appropriate.
In her past life, she was too gentle and kind, and was thus stepped on by people. Many people are like that; fear comes before respect.
But once all authority is lost, recovery would never be easy!
Anyway, someone would definitely voice out if she remained silent.
Lady Jian secretly winced. She was the head staff; if the servants beneath her were to stir up trouble, she would also have to bear the responsibility. Stepping up quickly, she gave the two a scolding before turning to Sang Wan and bowed as she apologized. With a smile, she spoke, “These two servants will not go unpunished; rest assured Ma’am, this old maidservant here will punish them severely till satisfactory! Still, things have ended up this way and the winter melon soup ——hēhē, if I may, luckily, Ma’am was foresighted and made bean curd with Chinese mahogany. Laonu suggests serving the steamed mandarin fish together with the bean curd with Chinese mahogany! Ma’am, at this moment, dinner is of importance; dinner will commence shortly! These two wretched maidservants will definitely not be let off easily!”
The moment Lady 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 maidservant’s age was still small, she sobbed and almost cried as she apologized.
Sang Wan had seen enough and sighed helplessly. “Lady Jian is right; the mistress’s dinner is of importance. This isn’t the time talk about such things!” Her sight fell onto the inedible winter melon soup and sighed as she expressed a sense of helplessness and dismay.
Seeing so, Lady Jian and the two ‘culprits’ felt even more ashamed. Clenching her teeth, Lady Jian spoke generously, “Ma’am, these two servants could not stay out of trouble at such an important occasion. However Ma’am did like to punish them, please instruct and Laonu will carry them out unconditionally!”
Deep down, Lady Jian screamed of unluckiness. The only way to ease Sang Wan’s mind would probably be 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 Lady Jian.
Lady Jian’s heart began to beat loudly and she suddenly felt a little regretful of what she just said. However, since the words had already left her mouth, she had to bit the bullet and nodded without a choice. “Yes Ma’am, Laonu 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 be at ease 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 Lady Jian heaved a big sigh of relief. With a big grin, Lady Jian laughed, “Why are the both of you still kneeling down for? Stand up quickly, or are you waiting for Ma’am to help you up?” With that, she turned to Sang Wan and smiled, “Thank you Ma’am for your kindness! Our Ma’am is truly big-hearted!”
“Thank you Ma’am for your kindness!” The two knocked into each other’s head while climbing onto their feet and laughed, as if woken up from a nightmare.
Sang Wan’s gaze returned to Lady Jian and 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?”
“Ma’am, that…” Lady 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 is the meaning of this? Never had there been anyone who lets a sinned maidservant off but punishes the overseer! The kitchen staff, and the two servants who were 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 Lady 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, Lady Jian, will you teach me?”
“Āiyō, Ma’am!” The moment Lady Jian heard her, her expression relaxed and she patted her chest. With a smile, she laughed, “Ma’am, your joke went a little too far; it almost scared Laonu to death! Of course I will; any time when Ma’am comes to the kitchen, Laonu is willing to teach! As for the Mistress’s, and the Young Master’s, preferences and tastes, Laonu knows them like the back of my hand!”
“Ma’am 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 waving her hand and spoke, “Enough. Everyone, please return to your work! It is almost time for the dishes to be served; Lady Jian, please oversee the distribution!”
“Rest assured, Ma’am!” Lady 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 will 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 branch* members were not present. Shi Fengju’s younger brother, Shi Fenghua whom studies in the Yuanchang academy, returned for two days and went back to the academy after yesterday’s tea ceremony.
*Second branch refers to the second uncle and his family.Sang Wan stood upright beside Wang Shi; holding 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 personally prepared were placed directly in front of Wang Shi.
Wang Shi had already caught wind that Gu Fangzi told her daughter-in-law that she likes winter melon soup. But after glancing across the table, she spotted no winter melon soup. Because of that, she felt a little displeased.
To deliberately not make her favorite dish even though she knew what it was; just what is the meaning of this?
Originally, Sang Wan 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 is 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, blame this daughter-in-law for being worthless! As such, this daughter-in-law 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 sparked. Glancing at the plate next to the steamed mandarin fish, she smile, “Oh, is it this? Hēhē, from where did you get these Chinese mahogany scions 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 place the pair of chopsticks on top of Wang Shi’s place.
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 scions come from? Sang Wan, why don’t you explain to us how you made it?” Wang Shi asked joking.