From Madam Liu’s perspective, the county magistrate was the highest-ranked official in Tanggu Town . If the magistrate had to treat this man so politely, then he was definitely very high up the ladder . She needed to be more careful around him .
There was a finite amount of resources at home . For the most part, they only had vegetables that were growing in the field . They only had one type of meat at home and that was the portion of streaky pork that they had bought yesterday .
Yu Xiaocao sliced off a portion of the streaky pork and chopped it up finely until it was finely minced . She then sliced some eggplants into discs and dipped them in egg and flour before she fried them into eggplant fritters . She had a hunch that the emperor emeritus liked strongly flavored food, so he would likely enjoy these fragrant and flaky eggplant fritters .
As for the leftover pork, she used it to make the fatty but not greasy, full of delectable flavor, twice-cooked pork . She took string beans that had just been picked from the garden and dry-fried them with a bit of lard to make delicious ‘dry-fried string beans’ . To the tomatoes, she added several chicken eggs to make a plate of ‘stir-fried tomatoes and eggs’ . Thus, she managed to put together four hot dishes for the meal .
For the two cold appetizers, she used cucumbers and peanuts that had been cooked in boiling water . However, with only two cold plates on the table, she thought that it wasn’t very presentable .
After thinking a bit, Xiaocao took out five of the five spice duck eggs from the marinating jar and boiled them until they were cooked . Then, she sliced them and placed them onto a plate . The marinated duck eggs were full flavor and quite tasty . The egg yolks were bright yellow in color and small drops of glistening yolk oil oozed out . When eaten, they had a mildly salty taste that was very fragrant .
Xiaocao calculated the time quickly and decided that the century eggs should be about done by now . She picked out one of the eggs that had been coated in the mud mixture and lightly pinched off the top of its mud shell . The eggshell, which had been gently cracked open, peeled off, revealing a glossy dark exterior . On the surface, there were white colored, delicate designs, which showed the egg’s signature ‘pine flower’ appearance . She lightly sniffed the egg and a special and exotic smell hit her nose .
Xiaocao asked Xiaolian, who had just returned home, to ride their donkey to the neighboring village and buy some soft tofu . Century eggs with tofu was a simple dish that tasted delicious . This dish had a soft texture, delicate flavor, and melted in the mouth . Because they were entertaining high-ranked guests, she especially prepared a more high-brow dish .
She first cut the soft tofu into small rectangular blocks and had Madam Liu to hollow out the blocks . Then, she finely minced the century eggs and mixed in aromatic vinegar, sesame oil, and other seasonings . Next, she stuffed the century egg mixture into the hollowed-out tofu pieces and sprinkled some finely chopped green and red chili pepper on top . The finished dish not only looked appetizing but also had a savory taste and smell!
“Daughter! Your godfather is home!! What did you make that smells so delicious, I can smell it from far away…” Needless to say, in the past month, General Fang Zizhen often returned from the docks to bum a meal off of the Yu Family . His loud and clear voice could frequently be heard well before he stepped into the family’s courtyard .
This time, the resonant sound of his voice sounded like it had suddenly been cut off and screeched to a stop . At this moment, Fang Zizhen’s eyes were opened wider than a bronze gong and were full of disbelief . He forcefully rubbed at his eyes but the great and honorable person in front of him was still in the courtyard!
“This lowly official kowtows in greeting…” Fang Zizhen went three steps forward and knelt in front of the emperor emeritus . It was as if a gold mountain had met a jade pillar . Just as he was about to complete his greeting to the emperor emeritus, he was interrupted!
The emperor emeritus used a hand to wave at him in dismissal, “Mingzhe ah! We’re not at the capital, so no need to be so serious . Come! Sit here and spend some time with Fifth Lord!!” Mingzhe was Fang Zizhen’s courtesy name .
“Emp . . . Fifth Lord, why are you at Dongshan Village? Did you hear that my master lives here? That can’t be right ah! If that was true, then you should be at my master’s home, so why are you at Brother Yu’s residence?” Fang Zizhen cautiously sat down on the small wooden stool next to the emperor emeritus and placed his hands on his knees . He resembled an elementary school student who was receiving lessons from his teacher .
Yu Hai was in the middle of the vegetable field in the courtyard, turning over the soil . When he saw a lofty third-rank official kowtowing to Fifth Lord, he knew that this Fifth Lord had an uncanny background . He was trying to guess just how exalted Fifth Lord was as he worked .
However, since Fifth Lord apparently didn’t have any ill will towards the Yu Family at the moment, that was considered a huge blessing!
“Eh? Godfather? Weren’t you at Grandpa Zhao’s place helping them take care of the matters relating to the imperial edict? How do you have time to come over here?” Yu Xiaocao came out of the kitchen to take a peek outside and smiled brightly at the men in the courtyard .
Her luminous and pale little face had somehow gotten coated with some flour unbeknownst to her . Instead of looking sloppy, it actually made her look even more adorable and charming . In front of his sweet and cute adopted daughter, the expression on Fang Zizhen’s face became so soft that it looked like one could squeeze some water out of him .
His smile became gentle and his voice also softened, “Good girl! The eunuch who bequeathed the imperial decree is going to eat a meal over there, so I came over to pick some fresh vegetables for them . ”
“What? The eunuch issuing the imperial decree is staying with the Zhao Family to have a meal? Who gave him the right?” The emperor emeritus erased the amiable smile on his face and the sound of his voice seemed a bit more dignified and imposing .
Fang Zizhen smiled carefully and said, “Fifth . . . Fifth Lord, it’s noon and there’s not any place to eat in the vicinity of Dongshan Village . Should the eunuch return back on an empty stomach? Don’t blame Eunuch Zhang…”
The emperor emeritus frowned fiercely and replied, “Dongshan Village is only about a two hours horse ride from town . It’s not like Zhang Quan doesn’t know the customs and rules . Is he not afraid of being accused of the crime of trying to get too close to officials?”
“Uh . . . Fifth Lord, it shouldn’t be this serious right? There’s no one else in Dongshan Village, so there likely wouldn’t be anyone gossiping about this!” Fang Zizhen felt beads of sweat form on his forehead .
“Are you me that as long as other people don’t see it’s okay for him to privately become friends with court officials?” The emperor emeritus scowled deeply and commanded the imperial guard next to him, “Little Zhuang, go get Zhang Quan for me . Tell him that I’m having a meal here and I need someone to serve me!”
“Understood!” The imperial bodyguard, Zhuang Mo, received the command and swiftly left . The courtyard quickly became tranquil again, but the atmosphere was somewhat awkward now . Yu Hai had long gone out of the courtyard and started working on the ground in front of the gate . He was afraid that he might hear something that he shouldn’t!
“Time to eat!!” Yu Xiaocao’s bright and clear voice shattered the dead silence in the courtyard . Fang Zizhen suddenly felt that there was nothing more pleasing to his ears than his adopted daughter shouting ‘time to eat!’ at the top of her lungs .
The frown on the emperor emeritus’s face momentarily disappeared, and he sniffed, “Chicken stewed with mushrooms! This dish is quite good, I like it!”
“Fifth Lord, do you want to eat in the room or in the courtyard?” Yu Xiaocao inquired .
The emperor emeritus glanced at the Yu Family’s tottering, mudbrick house and curled his lip, “The rooms are a bit stuffy and the courtyard is so bright and spacious . Let’s eat in the courtyard then!”
When Yu Hang heard the old man voice his opinion, he quickly moved the family’s new dining table out into the courtyard and took out all of the stools in the house . He looked at the large men next to Fifth Lord, hesitated for a moment, and then asked Xiaocao quietly, “It looks like we don’t have enough wooden stools for everyone . Should I go to Auntie Zhou’s and borrow some from her?”
Although the emperor emeritus was no longer young, his hearing was still as keen as before . He laughed, “You don’t need to go through that much trouble! These men won’t be eating with us at the same table . Mingzhe, earlier the little girl called you her godfather . You’re quite fortunate . Previously I had wanted to adopt this lass as an honorary granddaughter but I had been summarily rejected by her!”
Fang Zizhen grinned widely and laughed a couple of times before he suddenly recalled something . The smile vanished on his face as he said, “Fifth Lord, don’t blame her! Xiaocao is still young and is sometimes childish . Please excuse her ignorance!”
“This servant, Zhang Quan, greets…” A shrill and resounding voice echoed in the air . As a eunuch who was ranked highly enough to issue an imperial decree, Zhang Quan still knelt obediently on the ground as his body lightly trembled .
“Alright!!” The emperor emeritus shouted violently and stopped the eunuch from finishing his sentence . “Why do you look so confused? Why aren’t you coming over now to serve? Are you blind and losing energy?! Liu Fusheng must have been blind to take such an idiot like you as his adopted son!”
Zhang Quan had already discreetly asked the imperial bodyguard, who had given him the message, about the emperor emeritus’s mood . At the time, his whole body had suddenly been drenched in cold sweat . A court eunuch becoming friends with a court official was a serious crime that could lead to beheading! He could only blame himself . Previously, the emperor had repeatedly warned him to treat General Zhao with respect . He had gotten too proud and almost unexpectedly committed an overwhelming offense ah! Fortunately, the emperor emeritus had called him over . The emperor emeritus was truly like his second father and benefactor who had saved his life!
“Come, come! Don’t all just stand there ah!! Mingzhe, Little Yu, and you, little girl, come over and eat with Fifth Lord!!” The emperor emeritus glared at Zhang Quan and then ignored his presence . His eyes had been attracted to the table full of delicious smelling food that was all familiar to him .
In his previous life, Zhu Huaiyong had also been a brilliant and outstanding military official of his country . He didn’t have any other interests, other than eating good food . After he transmigrated over to this world, he had been on the battleground for several years in a row . Being able to eat enough to fill his belly was already considered quite good, so how could he be picky about the food?
After he ascended the throne, he found that the imperial palace’s chefs were all decent . Perhaps he still missed his previous life but he always felt like the food here didn’t taste quite right . However, he and the current emperor were both men who didn’t know how to cook . Thus, he was even more attached to finding the taste of his previous life in this world .
Decades passed and the memory of those familiar foods of his previous life had slowly faded . He had originally believed that he would never be able to have a taste of his homeland again in this lifetime . However, he didn’t expect that in this impoverished, tiny courtyard, he would finally be able to satisfy his long-standing desire .
“These are all just some home cooked dishes, so please don’t dislike them because of that, Fifth Lord . Please eat your fill!” Yu Xiaocao took ahold of a plate of century eggs with tofu and lightly placed the dish in front of the emperor emeritus .
Zhu Huaiyong’s eyes lit up even more brightly and he smiled slyly like an old fox, “Little girl, you even know how to make century eggs and you claim that you can’t make bean vermicelli? Don’t try to trick me, Fifth Lord’s eyes are still sharp!”
“Century eggs? Daughter, our family’s century eggs are ready to eat?” Fang Zizhen had been quite busy on the docks and had almost forgotten about these eggs . He stared at the plate of delicate and delicious century eggs with tofu that was in front of the emperor emeritus . He almost couldn’t control his desire to try some now .
Xiaocao had finished serving all of the food to the table and was about to go to the kitchen to serve food to the imperial bodyguards when the emperor emeritus stopped her, “Little girl, you’ve been busy for a while . Come, sit next to Fifth Lord and eat some . They all have working limbs, if they’re hungry, they’ll be able to find food to eat!”
The emperor emeritus had already ordered that only Fang Zizhen, Yu Hai, and Yu Xiaocao had the honor of accompanying him for the meal . Zhang Quan stood on the side and held a new pair of chopsticks . He picked up an eggplant fritter and was about to taste it .
“Stop! You don’t need to test the food for poison here, go into the kitchen where Commander Zhuang and the others are and eat the meal there!” The emperor emeritus trusted the Yu Family and having someone taste the food before he tried was not essential . He refused to permit another person at the table to eat his precious food!
Zhang Quan perceptibly made a noise in assent . In his heart, the Yu Family had risen ranks . There probably weren’t many people who could make the emperor emeritus trust them so much, right?
“Century eggs with tofu! It’s been decades since I’ve last had these! I’ve almost forgotten what they taste like ah!” The emperor emeritus carefully picked a piece of tofu stuffed with century eggs and opened his mouth wide . He shoved the whole piece into his mouth . The tender tofu with the savory flavor of the century egg spread through his mouth . Being able to taste food that he hadn’t had for years almost made Zhu Huaiyong let out a couple tears in joy .
Fang Zizhen watched the emperor emeritus earnestly . When he saw the obvious pleasure on the older man’s face and some faint signs of moisture in his eyes, anxiety rose in his heart——was there really something so delicious that would make the emperor emeritus cry?