Chapter Ten

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Chapter Ten – The Long Wait

Winter was always the hardest. Xiao Xiao hated being confined within the palace walls and in her chambers during the days when snow was thickest and the air coldest. It was doubly harder, because Xiao Xin was teething and a fretting baby was not the easiest to be with, especially she was red in the face and refused to be comforted.

Xiao Xiao worked on her jian exercises, practised writing Latin, a language that continued to confound, and sewed fortune pouches for the coming Chun Jie. Master Gu gave her more homework, much to her disgust.

It seemed that winter was a season where dragons slumbered. Ming Zhu was silent, almost as if she had faded away. But Xiao Xiao’s dreams told a different story. In her dreams, Ming Zhu wandered back to her undersea palace, playing with clams and oysters. The dragon princess lingered outside the gates of the dragon king’s palace, reluctant to go back to her father.

Ma ma, Xiao Xiao observed, sent revitalizing tonics to the Empress of the West Palace, Cantonese herbal soups to strengthen a new mother-to-be and give energy to the growing baby.

Die Die, her beloved father, finally left on his military expedition and Xiao Xiao was saddened by the fact that he might miss Chun Jie. Lunar New Year without her father would be dreary. Xiao Xiao missed horse riding with him. Even Mother was upset.

“Hongli, come back,” she overheard Ma ma using her father’s personal name. “I am going to miss you.”

Glancing through the fall of her hair, Xiao Xiao watched her father gently caress her mother’s rosy cheeks with his gloved knuckle before he mounted his stallion. As he rode away with his guards in a thunderous cloud of snow and sound, Ma ma lowered her head and dabbed her eyes with a silk kerchief. In the dreary winter morning, Xiao Xiao had never felt more bleak, more alone.

Cook, however, livened things up by teaching her how to make jiao zi.

Jiao Zi Recipe


1/2 pound ground/minced pork

1/2 cup chopped Chinese chives

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Shaoxing wine

3 dashes white pepper powder

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

For the skin:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup water


Mix the flour with water and knead it for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough gets soft. Separate the dough into two equal portions and roll them into cylinders (about 1 inch in diameter). Cover them with wet towel and set aside.

Prepare the chives by chopping off the root (white part) of the chives. Use only the green part. Chop up the chives. Mix the chives with ground pork and add all the seasonings. Put the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

 To prepare the skin, cut the dough into 1/4 in. length and use a rolling pin to flatten it until it becomes a round skin about 3 inch in diameter. Put a small tea-spoonful of filling into the center of the skin and seal it up tightly with your fingers. Too much filling and the dumpling will burst! (Note: You can also pleat the edges for a prettier look!). Great activity for the whole family, especially for kids!

Heat a pot of water until it boils. Drop the dumplings into the boiling water and cover the pot. As soon as the dumplings start to float (meaning they are cooked), scoop them out and put them on a serving plate.

You can also grill them on a hot plate. When the base of the dumplings are golden-brown, they are ready.

Serve hot with black vinegar and sliced young ginger.

Note: You can also use minced chicken, instead of pork, or chopped mushrooms (for vegans).

(Adapted from

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