“The weather’s getting warmer day by day, so it’s better not to put it out for too long . Today I’m giving this duck to Third Young Master Zhou to taste . If he thinks it’s good, we will then talk about cooperating!” Yu Xiaocao smiled faintly .
“That’s good, that’s good! Auntie’s not going to delay you anymore . Go early and come back early, I’ll wait for the good news!” Madam Mao was surprised that Xiaocao was able to come up with a new recipe this quickly . She hoped that the owner of Zhenxiu Restaurant would be attracted to the recipe in Xiaocao’s hands so that her family’s slow-selling ducks could be sold at a good price .
The sisters waved farewell to the Madam Mao . They hurried the little donkey towards the entrance of the village .
“Oh my! Aren’t you the twin sisters from Dahai’s family? Where are you guys going? If you guys are going to town, can you take me along?” A fake sounding voice made the two sisters feel uncomfortable just by hearing it .
Xiaocao looked closely at the person . It turned out to be Madam Xiong, who was usually very close to Madam Li . She was worthy of her surname  . Madam Xiong looked tough and she had a stocky build; she had a swarthy complexion and was very rude . She looked even worse than a blind bear!
As the proverb goes, ‘birds of a feather flock together’ . Madam Xiong was the same as Madam Li . She was lazy, greedy, and was a notorious gossip who talked behind other people’s backs . For this reason, almost all the married women in the village have had conflicts with her before . Out of the whole Dongshan Village, it was hard to find a second person who was willing to talk to her besides Madam Li .
Xiaocao didn’t want to bring her along . It wasn’t only because of her character, but more importantly, because of her weight . She weighed over 200 pounds, and Xiaocao was afraid that she would tire out her Little Gray .
However, they were from the same village . If she didn’t bring her along, Xiaocao was afraid that this woman would badmouth her family around the whole village . Xiaocao forced herself to smile and said, “Uncle Liu’s wife, come on up!”
Madam Xiong agreed and climbed up from the back of the handcart; her movement almost made Little Gray snap . Little Gray turned around like a human and glanced behind it . It let out a few whinnies . It sounded like it was protesting .
“Is this the dying donkey that your family bought last time? Its fate is pretty good; it didn’t die! However, it’s still kind of skinny, so it can’t do much work!” She didn’t think about the effect of her weight on the donkey . Instead, she blamed it on Xiaocao’s donkey . She was an annoying woman . Xiaolian was always blunt with her words . “How much money would it cost to buy a strong donkey? Auntie, if you lend us money, then our family will buy a new donkey…”
“Uh . . . ” Madam Xiong choked on Xiaolian’s words . After a while, she replied, “If I had extra money, I would’ve bought one a long time ago . Even if I don’t have the cart, I can ride it when I go back to my parental home!”
Xiaocao thought, ‘With your size, don’t even talk about a donkey, even if it was the strongest horse, it still wouldn’t be able to carry your weight . ’
Madam Xiong continued, “Besides, your family sells braised food and vegetables . You guys probably earned a decent amount of money! Everyone in this village knows that the Yu Family’s second son has connections with the rich families in town . Even if they just gave you a little money, it would be enough for you to eat and spend . Do you still need to ask my family for money to buy a donkey?”
Yu Xiaocao was too lazy to even bother with her . She pulled on Xiaolian clothes quietly, hinting at her to stop the conversation . However, Madam Xiong had no awareness at all, as she continued to talk . She said, “Xiaolian, what are guys doing in town?”
Xiaocao replied faintly, “Nothing much! We’re just buying the ingredients for the braised food . ”
Madam Xiong continued, “You guys must earn a lot from selling braised food, right? I heard from your older uncle’s wife that you earn at least a hundred copper coins in a day . Then don’t you guys earn at least three to four taels of silver in a month? Oh my! Even the head of the village may not be as wealthy as your family . ”
The village head’s oldest son followed people everywhere to do business and earned some money . The younger son was a scholar who had passed the county examinations and was highly valued by the previous county magistrate . He became the magistrate’s secretary . The village head’s family had about 100 mu of good farmland . They were considered a first-class family in the village . By comparing the Yu Family with the village head’s, Madam Xiong was roasting Xiaocao’s family on fire!
Yu Xiaocao frowned and said in an unhappy tone, “After subtracting the original cost it took for me to make the one copper coin per portion of braised food, how much money would be left over? It’s not even enough for the household expenses . Right now, we’re going to town to buy some seasoning and spices . The amount of money we need to buy these items is at least one to two taels of silver . One to two taels of seasoning would only last about a month before it’s gone! Uncle Liu’s wife, how much profit would we actually earn?”
Madam Xiong eyes whirled as she said, “You also need spices? Which spices do you need? Why don’t you tell me?”
Yu Xiaocao tilted her head and looked at her . She said directly, “It’s an exclusive recipe . I apologize, but I can’t tell you!”
Madam Xiong grumbled a few times and curled her mouth unhappily . She had longed for the Yu Family’s braised food recipe for a long time . Ever since she found out that Madam Zhang and her daughter-in-law got the recipe from Xiaocao, Madam Li had been tricked by Madam Xiong’s words multiple times . Madam Li had always talked without thinking .
Unfortunately, the recipe had been monopolized by Madam Zhang . Even if she couldn’t have a business, she also wouldn’t let other people take advantage of it . Also, Madam Zhang heard that the special recipe was already bought by Zhenxiu Restaurant . Although Madam Zhang appeared to be a tyrant at home, in actuality, she was timid and a coward . She was afraid that if she disclosed the recipe, the powerful Zhou Family in Tanggu Town will punish her . So, Madam Zhang burnt the recipe secretly, and therefore, Madam Xiong couldn’t get anything out of her .
Madam Xiong looked like she was the close relative of a bear, but she wasn’t stupid at all . Instead, she was very shrewd . She knew that she couldn’t get anything from Madam Li, so she wanted to get the information from the sisters by tricking them, thinking that it was easy to trick the kids . The result was that she got rejected by Xiaocao . Madam Xiong silently cursed the Yu Family’s eight generations of ancestors .
After that, the sisters ignored whatever Madam Xiong said, so she stopped looking for trouble herself . The more you paid attention to Madam Xiong, the more she would climb all over you . It was best to give her the cold shoulder .
When they arrived at the entrance of the Tanggu Town, the sisters abandoned Madam Xiong using the excuse that they were going to different places . Madam Xiong even shamelessly asked the sisters when they were going back to the village so that she could have a free ride home .
Xiaocao said, “We need to stay in town for a day . We need to pick up my younger brother in the evening, then we can go back . If Uncle Liu’s wife is busy doing something, you can ride the cart from our neighboring village before noon to get back…”
“I have nothing to do! What would I have to do? So, it’s a deal! I will wait at the town entrance in the evening and ride your cart home!” What a joke . It cost one copper coin to ride the cart from the neighboring village . With one copper coin, she could buy a big steam bun with it . Madam Xiong wasn’t willing to spend it on riding a cart!
The sisters first went to the food market and bought the ingredients for the braised food . Xiaocao went to many shops before she was able to gather all the spices she needed for the salted duck . Then, she bought two fat ducks from the food market . She carried the ducks in her hands as she quickly ran towards Zhenxiu Restaurant .
“Miss Yu, how do you have time to come to the town today?” Zhenxiu Restaurant’s manager’s whole face was wreathed with happiness when he saw Yu Xiaocao . It seemed as if he saw the God of Wealth . When he saw the ducks that Xiaocao was holding, a flash of golden light flashed in his eyes . He quickly rushed up to her to help her carry them .
Yu Xiaocao was just about to say something when she was cut off by a familiar voice behind her, “Manager Zhou, are there any private rooms left?”
The manager apologized hastily, “I’m sorry, Headmaster Yuan! All the private rooms were already reserved two days ago . Do you want me to…help you make a reservation as soon as possible?”
“No private rooms . . . it would be fine if I can buy a roasted chicken! It should be no problem for you to give me a roasted chicken, right?” This guest was a real foodie——Great Scholar Yuan Sinian . The one next to him was a potential foodie, Yuan Yunxi .
The manager appeared to be a little embarrassed . Only Head Chief Wang could make the roasted chicken authentically . However, he was busy from morning until night . Head Chief Wang could only make fifty to sixty chickens in a day . Besides the chickens reserved for the private rooms, the other thirty chickens had already been reserved by other customers .
But, as Rongxuan Academy’s headmaster and a scholar in this era, he needed to give him some face . The manager hesitated and said, “How about…you wait until the evening and I’ll let Old Wang work overtime to make you one?”
Although Yuan Sinian was a veteran foodie, he wasn’t unreasonable . He replied regretfully, “There’s no need . Old Wang is busy every day, I will not add on to his burden! You help us reserve a roasted chicken as soon as possible . Also, reserve it with a private room, so I can have two roasted chickens! When will Old Wang’s apprentices finish their apprenticeship?”
Yuan Yunxi was disappointed but was already mentally prepared . “Grandfather, I told you earlier! Zhenxiu Restaurant’s private rooms needed to be reserved in advance . It’s no use even if you come early the day of to make a reservation!”
Yuan Sinian raged, “We have nothing to do today, so I just wanted to see if a blind cat can find a dead mouse . But it seems like it’s hard to find a dead mouse . Hehe!”
The headmaster turned around and he immediately caught sight of the two identical-looking girls . “Huh? Isn’t this…isn’t this Yu Fan’s older sister? Aren’t you the little girl who cooks delicious food? Did my vision blur because I’m too hungry? Why are there two of Yu Fan’s sister?”
Yuan Yunxi’s steady face twitched . He reminded him, “Grandfather, they are twin sisters . They just look alike!”
“Oh! No wonder! The two of you are twins . I thought I got dizzy from starving myself!” Yuan Sinian laughed as he stroked his mustache . “Which one of you is the better cook? The stir-fried pork intestines from last time made me crave for more . Even Old Wang doesn’t hold a candle against the Yu girl . . . ”
“Headmaster Yuan, you overestimating me! I only specialize in making braised food . How can I compare with Head Chef Wang, who has been cooking for over a decade?” Yu Xiaocao had a favorable impression of this foodie who was willing to fight for food, so when she talked to him, she couldn’t help but smile .
Yuan Sinian nodded with a smile on his face and said, “You’re neither impatient nor arrogant . You have the potential to become a skilled chef! If you become a chef at Zhenxiu Restaurant, I would come every day for every meal…”
“Grandfather, is your salary enough for you to dine out every meal?” Yuan Yunxi ridiculed from the side .
“If my salary isn’t enough, don’t we still have your father? Isn’t it natural for a son to be filial to his father? He is the current prime minister . I don’t believe that he can’t support my living expenses!” Yuan Sinian glared at him and snorted .
Turning around, he saw the dried salted duck in Xiaocao’s hand as she giggled . His eyes suddenly brightened as he asked, “Little girl, what are you holding in your hand? Is it an air-dried duck?”
The leftover meat in this era, such as chicken, duck, and fish meat, were all air-dried . The air-drying process was somewhat similar to the method used to dry the salted duck .
 Madam Xiong's surname, Xiong (熊), means bear .