Chapter 169: Hand-Rolled Noodles
“Do you need any help?” Lan Jue popped his head in to the kitchen and called the question to Zhou Qianlin’s back.
“No need, if you help it’ll just take longer.” She waved him away, then began to rummage through his cabinets. She began pulling out the things she’d be needing.
She began by washing all of the utensils – after all, she had no idea how long it’d been since they’d been used. When she was finished, she poured some flour in to one of the cleaned pans. A little water, and there she had some dough which she immediately began to knead.
“What are you making?” Once again Lan Jue poked his head in to the kitchen, curiosity getting the better of him. He recalled the earlier days; when he and Hera had only been together a short time; when he’d only just started his road to fame in the mercenary world; when he took on any and every job they threw his way. During that time, he wasn’t so picky and was simply pleased to have enough of something tasty to fill his belly.
His more discerning tastes didn’t develop until after he’d made the move to Skyfire Avenue. Over the last three years the bulk of his time was spent in decadence, learning about the finer things, and with the exception of lovemaking had all he needed to forget his sorrows.
As such it was strange to him to watch Zhou Qianlin, busily pacing around the kitchen as she worked. It filled him with an odd sensation he couldn’t quite describe.
As far as he could remember, he and Hera had never cooked or eaten together. It had always been up to the individual as to when and what to eat.
Zhou Qianlin spoke to him without turning her head. “Get out. The kitchen is no place for a man. I have everything I need.” With that, she shut the door in his face.
Lan Jue wandered back to the living room, where he settled himself down on his sofa. He was surprised to find a sense of excitement and expectation welling up inside of him. It wasn’t alltogether different from the excitement he felt when going to the Gourmet’s for a meal.
Of course that peculiar sensation persisted through the excitement. It was a feeling he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.
If only she were Hera, he thought, then all would be perfect. A thought suddenly flashed through his mind.
Ten minutes later
A hiss rose from the kitchen. Lan Jue, almost without thinking, immediately made his way to the door to discover what happened. He pulled it open and peered inside.
He was immediately struck with a gentle but alluring scent, of raw onion in peanut oil. That was the source of the noise.
Zhou Qianlin was in an apron, carefully placing the chopped onions in to the frying pan. She slowly stirred the sizzling veggies with a wooden spoon before repeating the process with a plate of diced and peeled tomatoes.
That hiss again, louder, as a plume of steam arose from the pan. The humming ventilator over the stone sucked it all away. The astringent scent of the onions and the fresh tomato mixed and mingled in the air around him.
Lan Jue took a deep breath through his nose. “Mm, smells good!”
Qianlin didn’t attempt to expel him this time, busily stirring the pan’s contents. After a moment she threw in another handful of raw onion and continued.
“That’s an awful lot of onion.” Lan Jue looked at the pot skeptically.
She nodded. “It’s no good without enough onion. More is better.”
She stirred a little while longer, then stepped away just long enough to pick up a small pot half-full of water. She put it on the stove, and set the fire underneath.
Lan Jue’s culinary studies kicked in, then, and he immediately knew what was happening in his kitchen. He spied the noodles laying across his cutting board, too. “Hand-rolled noodles! I’m impressed, I didn’t know you could make noodles.”
Zhou Qianlin rolled her eyes in faux exasperation. “There’s a whole lot you don’t know, huh?”
The tomatoes boiled until they became a paste, then water was added. It was brought to a boil to thicken, then salt was added. Next, the fire was turned down and eggs were added. When all was done, the contents were poured together in to the fried onions.
Red, yellow, and green suspended in a light pink broth. A fine gravy of tomato, egg and onion.
With the slightest dab of sesame oil, the dish was complete. Qianlin sighed pitifully. “A shame there’s no shrimp. If we did this would be much better.”
The second, smaller pot had begun to boil, and the noodles steamed within. She poured cold water within and waited for it to boil anew. She repeated the process two more times, then shut the fire off.
Two bowls; one big, one small, both filled with cooling noodles. Their surface dripped with the aromatic red sauce. A simple but fine dinner.
Lan Jue watched Qianlin as she worked. Like floating clouds over flowing water she moved from one action to another with a natural grace. But there was no wasted movement, no redundancy. Beautiful and efficient. By the time the dishes were on the dining table, the kitchen had been tidied.
She handed a pair of chopsticks to Lan Jue, and noticed his stupefied expression. “What are you looking at? Eat your food.”
“Oh.” His head dropped to look at his bowl. He swallowed, then tucked in.
Hand-rolled noodles had a special texture that machine products didn’t possess. Paired with the thick tomato, egg and onion gravy, and it was quite the treat1. Qianlin was only a few noodles in to her plate before Lan Jue finished. Not even the vestiges of gravy remained.
She furrowed her brows at him. “Eat slower. Noodles are easy to digest but you’ll still get the hiccoughs.”
Lan Jue wiped his mouth with a nearby napkin. “Mph, delicious. I didn’t know you were so skilled. You should come stay in the Avenue, steal the Gourmet’s job.”
Qianlin poured half the contents of her bowl in to his. “You still look hungry, have some more. If it’s still not enough I don’t know what to tell you. There aren’t any more tomatoes or eggs.”
Lan Jue was surprised by her generosity. He looked down at his bowl, then to her, then to his bowl again. She was too busy eating her noodles to notice.
Lan Jue ate without any further words of thanks or praise. He took his time with this helping, and by the time he’d finished so had Qianlin.
She gathered the bowls and walked back in to the kitchen.
Lan Jue leaned comfortably against his chair, never moving from his spot next to the dinner table. His eyes were alive with contentment.
After the bowls had been washed and returned, Qianlin exited the kitchen. “Alright, time to get going.”
“Alright!” Lan Jue pushed himself to his feet.
They exited in to the store to find it still open, with Xiuxiu and Ke’er in attendance. Xiuxiu spoke up as she saw them leave the apartments. “Ah, boss. Are you two heading out?”
Lan Jue nodded. “I’m sending her home. I’ll be back later.”
“Be careful on the road,” Xiuxiu entreated.
Ding ding ding! Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin disappeared from sight. As they did, Xiuxiu’s pleasant expression slipped, and her eyes adopted a far-away look.
Ke’er spoke, her voice a whisper. “I’m sure there’s nothing going on, sis.”
Xiuxiu’s features snapped back to normal. She shook her head. “I’m fine. Whether or not they do is no business of ours! Anyway, it’s closing time.”
Lan Jue stood by his bicycle, watching Qianlin’s figure disappear up the mountain path. The whole way home neither had spoken, choosing to respect the comfortable silence. There was no pressure to speak, only that strange, yet familiar, sensation.
National Eastern University.
Today was the beginning of Poseidon’s benefit performance for his Sounds of Nature album. Students arriving early for class were surprised to find their school transformed in to a sea of sapphire blue.
Hundreds of thousands of bright blue forget-me-nots poured from every corner of the university. With the exception of the roads needed to make it to class, every available space was covered in flowers.
The gentle scent of flowers, and that soothing blanket of blue, brought peace and contentment to everyone who entered the university.
Even this early in the morning the university gates were congested with people. Dozens of representatives from media outlets based in all three alliances were on hand, their vehicles narrowing passage to the school and bringing traffic to a halt. Of course members of the East’s police services were also on hand to maintain order.
In fact, both the police and Gobi’s own security detail were in attendance. They spend the majority of their time keeping the reporters at bay. The concert was slated for two in the afternoon, and none but students were permitted to enter before one.
Some journalists tried to sneak in under the guise of being a student, but none were able to fool the keen eyes of the security personnel.
Clearly the level of excitement here was palpable, but beyond that there was also something else in the air. As far as the media knew, the concert was to be held in the school’s expansive auditorium. Other than that, however, they had no idea what to expect. Gobi Entertainment’s media division definitely knew what they were doing.
“Look at this siege. It’s certainly busy enough.” Lan Jue stopped his bike at the corner and watched the hodge-podge as Qianlin scrambled off the back. A strange and happy finding was that Richard was nowhere to be found since their last confrontation two days ago.
“Yeah!” Qianlin said, eyeing the crowd. “I’ve never seen it so busy. Gobi really is a major business. Of course a lot of this is because it’s a benefit performance, but it’s a good thing.”
Lan Jue smirked. “It looks like you aren’t a fan of Poseidon.”
She shook her head. “I’ve never really been one for idols.”
Lan Jue gave her a thumbs up. “You have good taste.”
“What does this have to do with taste,” she asked. “Anyway, I’ll go in first.” She didn’t wait for an answer, just slung her book bag over her shoulders and made for the school.
Lan Jue waited until there was a hundred or so meters between them before pushing his bike towards the campus entrance.
Zhou Qianlin was inexorably caught by a group of reporters, who surrounded her and peppered her with questions before she could escape in to the confines of the school.
Lan Jue could only look on helplessly and pat his forehead. It really was a chore to look so good. No matter where or what, you attracted eyes. Lan Jue thought it might be best to suggest she, like Hua Li, wear a mask whenever she left the house.
He pushed his bike past the crowds with no troubles. He used his bike like a weapon to cut a path until he was free.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the media. Please do not harass our students as they attempt to make it to classes. If you continue to bring trouble, I will submit a request to the school and they will refuse you entry in to this afternoon’s concert.” His righteous voice cut through the din, infused with his discipline just enough to capture people’s attention.
Lan Jue took the opportunity to shepherd Zhou Qianlin safely in to the campus.
- My wife makes this sometimes. One of only two noodle dishes I’ll ever eat. Delicious. ↩