What's the best thing to do in winter?
Set up a pot, pour in three cups of light wine, and prepare a table of hot pot ingredients.
Thinly sliced beef, with a good mix of fat and lean, is the best. The thinner the better, so it cooks quickly in the boiling pot and is tender to the bite.
As for the broth, it's best to use a high-quality chicken stock that has been simmered for several hours. Add some white radish and mushrooms, and let it cook for half an hour. This will infuse the vegetables with the rich flavor of the chicken broth, making them an essential element of this feast.
There are also duck tongues, beef tripe, and Chinese cabbage, among other meats and vegetables, which make for a lively winter hot pot.
This is the home banquet that Yue Dingtang remembers. Unlike other households, the Yue family doesn't like to have their chef prepare fancy and complicated dishes for their family banquets.
Instead, they simply set up a table, especially during the winter when even the wealthiest families need a group of servants to keep watch.
If the host eats slowly, the food must be taken away and reheated, which can make guests feel a chill emanating from their chopsticks as soon as they sit down.
The patriarch of the Yue family settled in from the north and loved to eat a steaming hot pot during his lifetime.
From the start of the meal to the end, the table was filled with a warm and enthusiastic atmosphere. The soup pot boiled, and hearts were warmed, even the coldest topics became warm.
Gathering around a hot pot together is more like a tradition in the Yue family.
Yue Dingtang doesn't like to eat lamb.
Yue Chunxiao loves to eat lamb.
The other two men in the Yue family, one loves to eat braised meat, and the other enjoys pig brain. Each of the four had their own preferences, so the hot pot had to be divided into four compartments. They could all gather together and enjoy their own choices, which was a great example of tolerance and inclusivity.
Even when the Yue family members went their separate ways later on, with Yue Chunxiao following her husband abroad, the four-compartment hot pot remained an indispensable presence during holidays and festivals.
Sometimes, when the eldest was absent and the second was missing, only Yue Dingtang was left in front of the pot, enjoying the four compartments and the warmth of loneliness.
Tonight was a rare lively occasion for the Yue family. With Yue Chunxiao present, it was just two people sitting opposite each other, but with Ling Shu joining in, everything changed completely.
Ling Shu was always good at livening up the atmosphere, and with him around, Yue Chunxiao's smile never disappeared from her face.
It wasn't the kind of polite and distant smile, but a genuine expression of joy from the heart. "Why does Sister like Ling Shu so much?" Yue Dingtang couldn't understand this.
The two had known each other for many years, and Ling Shu had come to their house for dinner before. Of course, at that time, his sister had shown a liking for Ling Shu, but she had a similar attitude towards her peers and towards Du Yunning.
Young people's passion often comes quickly and goes quickly. After many years, his sister’s continued treatment of Ling Shu in the same way is somewhat surprising.
Of course, Yue Dingtang knew that Ling Shu was good-looking and had a sweet mouth. He would say one thing and do another, but when it came to Yue Chunxiao, he would put on a show to please his sister.
As long as the hoe is wielded well, there is no corner that cannot be dug.
Yue Chunxiao, this "corner," had already leaned towards someone else's house. Yue Dingtang didn't want to admit it, but when Ling Shu wanted to charm people, he was truly irresistible, causing everyone to love him and everything to bloom in him presence.
"Little brother is back!" Yue Chunxiao waved at him with a smile.
"What are you standing there for? Come over here, we've already prepared the dishes and utensils for you!" Yue Dingtang took off his hat, scarf, and coat, handed them to the servant, wiped his hands clean, and walked over.
"Why are you here again?" This question was directed at Ling Shu.
Although the sentence was stern, there was not much severity in the tone.
Ling Shu looked innocent and had not yet answered when Yue Chunxiao spoke up.
"Ling Shu and her family went back to their hometown to visit relatives. Ling Shu is all alone at home, so I invited her to come over for dinner. It's just after the fifteenth day of the lunar new year, and the house is empty. It's so depressing to eat leftovers alone at an empty table!"
Yue Dingtang said, "But he still has his old servant Aunt Hong at home. You make it sound like he's helpless."
Ling Shu cleverly replied, "Sister Chunxiao cares for me and invited me over for dinner. After dinner, I'll leave."
Yue Chunxiao said, "Don't rush to leave. It's freezing outside and your brother-in-law is still in Nanjing. Dingtang won't keep me company tonight, so stay and chat with me. We have plenty of empty rooms upstairs. I'll have the servant prepare one for you, and you can stay there whenever you come over in the future."
Ling Shu replied, "That won't do. It would be too much of a bother for you, and besides, Sister isn't here. I have to go back and check on things. Aunt Hong is getting old and I worry about leaving her alone at home."
Yue Chunxiao affectionately said, 'You are so thoughtful, but don't be shy. You are working with Dingtang now, so let's have breakfast together and then head out. Later, I will send someone to your house to bring some food for Aunt Hong and let her know that you will be back tomorrow.'
These two were like a duet.
Yue Dingtang had no expression on his face as he thought to himself and took a bite of the radish.
October radishes are as good as ginseng. Although it is no longer October, the radish soaked in chicken soup for a long time still has a unique sweetness.
With one bite, the chicken soup and radish juice burst in his mouth, instantly driving away all the coldness and warming his stomach.
The four-compartment that was originally shared only between him and Yue Chunxiao now had an extra person, but it felt like double the fun.
Ling Shu could single-handedly create an atmosphere that made three people feel like five or six. Even a plain Shanghai Qing vegetable could become the subject of an interesting story in his hands.
"There was a man who loved to eat Shanghai Qing, but he was wandering outside of Shanghai and couldn't get his hands on any. So, he had to make do with some big cabbage and bought some vermicelli. Since pork stewed with vermicelli was popular in Northeast China, he wanted to try it too. But he couldn't find any fresh pork, so he used the cabbage and vermicelli, added some radish and dried corn, and borrowed some old bacon from his neighbor. After stewing it all together, he surprisingly found the taste of Shanghai Qing in it."
Yue Chunxiao's appetite was whetted by Ling Shu's story, and she couldn't resist taking another piece of Shanghai Qing and blanching it. "This cabbage stew with vermicelli has nothing to do with Shanghai greens, does it?"
Ling Shu smiled and said, "It may seem unrelated, but he can taste the flavor of Shanghai greens in it. Isn't it because of homesickness? So, no matter what we eat, we can taste the flavor of our hometown dishes."
Yue Chunxiao was inspired and said, "Exactly! When I was abroad, I didn't want anything else but a taste of my hometown dishes. I thought about it every day and every month. Although there are Chinatowns and I can cook for myself, the dishes I make are always missing something. Take vegetarian goose for example, my brother-in-law likes it, so I bought tofu skin and vermicelli to make it myself, but he always says it's not as good as the one at home. One time, he even made me angry."
Ling Shu picked up a slice of thin beef, dipped it in sauce, and put it in his mouth.
He savored the taste and concluded, "It's true that nothing can compare to the taste of home." "So, being born as a Chinese is a blessing," he said.
Yue Chunxiao retorted, "What blessing? Only Shanghai is relatively peaceful, but in other places, there are wars every other day. It's not easy to pursue peace when there are natural disasters and man-made calamities everywhere."
It felt like a family gathering during the holidays, even though there was only one family member present and the other was an unexpected guest. But Yue Dingtang's mood improved unconsciously, and he cautiously joined the conversation.
"Without destruction, there can be no construction. Only by being prepared for danger in times of peace can we strive for progress and pursue peace."
Yue Chunxiao was not convinced and criticized him, "Whenever you men speak, it's always these vague and abstract ideas that are out of touch with reality!"
Yue Dingtang remained calm and said, "This is called having a bird's-eye view and a long-term vision."
Ignoring Yue Chunxiao's disdainful expression, he turned to Ling Shu and asked, "Why did Ling Yao and the others suddenly go to the countryside to visit relatives?"
Ling Shu glanced at Yue Chunxiao, who gently encouraged him, "Don't be afraid, just speak up. You haven't done anything wrong."
Yue Dingtang had a bad feeling and wanted Ling Shu to stop talking.
"I saved He You'an from a radical fan who tried to kill her. When she thanked me, Shen Shiqi happened to see it. He wanted to fight me, but I beat him up instead. I was afraid he would go after Ling Yao and her husband, so I let them leave to avoid trouble and visit their relatives in the countryside."
Yue Chunxiao added, “He was clearly acting bravely and righteously. When he saw injustice, he couldn't just stand by. That Shen Shiqi doesn't know how to be grateful and even repays kindness with enmity. In my opinion, next time you encounter that He You’an, just ignore her. It's better to avoid trouble from someone with the surname Shen!”
Ling Shu helplessly replied, “She was in danger right in front of me. I can't just let her die. Next time I see Shen Shiqi, I'll just take a detour and wait for ten or twenty days. Then he'll forget about me, a nobody.”
Yue Chunxiao felt sorry for him and said, “Why does it have to be this way? Good people can't do anything these days? Don't worry, our Yue family still has some influence in Shanghai. I'll have your second brother go talk to Shen Shiqi's elders. What kind of family is the Shen family?”
She couldn't help but look at Yue Dingtang.
Yue Dingtang: ...
How did this become my problem again?
Yue Dingtang thought to himself and slowly spoke, "The Shen family is nothing special, except for Shen Shiqi's uncle who is connected to Madam Jiang. He can talk a big game, but it's all just empty words."
Yue Chunxiao replied, "Well then, we have even less reason to fear him. In my opinion, there's no need for your second brother to step in. Little brother, why don't you handle this?"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
Ling Shu said, "Chunxiao, thank you, but I don't want to trouble you all. The Yue family has already helped me enough, even if we were old classmates, I can't repay this debt of gratitude. Since we can't afford to provoke them, I'll just keep my distance. Everyone is responsible for their own actions, so you don't need to worry about me."
Yue Chunxiao replied, "You're sensible, but I still worry. If your face gets beaten up, how will that be good?"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
At this moment, Ling Shu was as innocent as innocent could be. It was as if the world could crumble and the sun and moon could lose their light, but it wouldn't affect him.
He was like a pure and flawless snowflake, or a feather plucked from an angel's wing - clean, clear, and without a speck of dust.
But Yue Dingtang hadn't forgotten the moment when Ling Shu had shot and killed Sancai in the underground warehouse of the Yuan family.
In that split second, his reaction had been precise, ruthless, and without hesitation. A novice or a thug who had never seen blood or death could never have had that kind of reaction.
It could only be said that Ling Shu and Yue Chunxiao were both willing to be fooled - one willing to deceive, the other willing to be deceived, one willing to fight, the other willing to take a beating.
In Yue Dingtang's view, Yue Chunxiao and Ling Shu were like siblings, and he himself was just back from the roadside.
"Since Ling Shu has said so, let him solve the problem of Shen Shiqi himself," said Yue Dingtang firmly refusing to step into this trap. "Sis, Ling Shu is already an adult and has been in the military for a few years. He's not a baby that needs to be coddled. You have to trust his abilities, and we don't need to interfere,"
Yue Chunxiao glared harshly at him.
Yue Dingtang remained unmoved.
On the other hand, Ling Shu was very understanding.
"Chunxiao, don't worry about it. I heard that your husband will come soon to take you for a reunion, and you'll be going abroad again. I asked my sister to prepare some local specialties like pickled vegetables and dried shrimp for you to take with you, to ease your homesickness," said Ling Shu.
Yue Chunxiao ignored the "my sister" part of his words and focused on Ling Shu, touched by his thoughtfulness.
"You're such a good kid, and I didn’t dote on you in vain!" she exclaimed.
She glanced at Yue Dingtang, her expression clearly saying: "You should learn from him."
Yue Dingtang didn't want to talk anymore. He put down his chopsticks and wiped his mouth with a napkin.
"Sis, I'll take Ling Shu home," said Yue Chunxiao.
"Why do you have to go back? Didn't we agree to spend the night here?" Yue Chunxiao asked.
Yue Dingtang frowned. "Don't be reckless. The servants at his house don't know he's staying out tonight. They'll worry. Besides, the guest rooms haven't been used in a long time. It'll take a while to clean them up. If we want to host guests, we can do it another day."
He became serious and stern, with a hint of the aura of Yue's grandfather. Yue Chunxiao didn't know what to say.
Ling Shu smiled and said, "Sis Chunxiao, I'll go back first. I'll come see you another day."
Yue Chunxiao felt a bit reluctant, "Then please ask the driver to drive slowly. It's cold and slippery outside. Oh, by the way, I have some freshly baked pastries that I made myself. Take some back for Aunt Hong to enjoy. You can also have some as a snack if you get hungry later."
Her attitude towards Ling Shu was almost doting. Yue Dingtang could guarantee that even when he went abroad to study, he never received such treatment. If one didn't know better, they would think that Ling Shu was going to travel far and wide and wouldn't return for a decade or more.
Yue Dingtang sighed. It's true that a doting mother spoils the child. Ling Yao and Ling Shu's old lady must have also doted on Ling Shu like this, which made him complacent and not strive for progress, which is truly frustrating.
As soon as Ling Shu stepped out of the Yue family's house, the fierce wind rushed at him from all directions, almost corroding him completely. He felt like he had fallen from a warm paradise to a freezing hell, and couldn't help but shiver.
Yue Dingtang walked ahead and bent down to enter the carriage, while Ling Shu followed behind in silence. They didn't speak a word until they were halfway through the journey, when Yue Dingtang suddenly spoke up.
"Are you trying to get close to and please my sister because you have a connection with her, or because of the Yue family's reputation?"
His voice was low, and with the car engine running and the windows closed, it was almost like an illusion if one didn't listen carefully.
Ling Shu, who had just finished a satisfying meal and was dozing off in the warm carriage, was startled by this question.
In a daze, he subconsciously murmured, "Huh?" before slowly coming back to his senses. "Chunxiao has a strong personality, just like my sister," said Yue Dingtang.
Yue Dingtang didn't say anything else.
Ling Shu also didn't explain further.
Even the driver in the front seat seemed to sense the strange atmosphere and couldn't help but fidget in his seat, feeling uneasy.
Fortunately, there weren't many cars on the street and the house was not far away.
Soon, they arrived at Ling Shu's house.
"You can stop here, thank you," Ling Shu said, and the driver naturally pulled over to the side of the street.
"Thanks, Captain Yue. See you tomorrow," Ling Shu said nonchalantly, waving his hand without looking back, and his figure quickly disappeared into the snowy night.
Yue Dingtang watched for a while before saying, "Let's go."
Ling Shu carried the pastries that Chunxiao had given him, humming a tune, and walked up the steps while taking out his keys to open the door.
Suddenly, there was a small movement from behind.
Before he could react, he was directly covered by a burlap sack from above, and everything went black in front of him!