The Conch Girl Project
Recipe for Flower (and Gillen and Ash)’s Kitchen:
Egg Fried Vermicelli with Kimchi
- An open kitchen with the whole space filled with the scent of lilies.
Flower the dog was not seen, but you learned so much about her: Her name, her breed, her favorite toy. She must be well educated.
She lives with an engaged couple, Gillen and Ash, who have an eye for poetry, among other forms of arts.
There’s film in the fridge. They must be visually creative.
- And TALL. You had to stand on a chair to get these cutting boards.
- A fish bottle that you found cute, but had no Idea why it has to be in the shape of a fish. Months later you learned that if you fill it with water, it will make a sound of fountain when you pour.
Their fridge was clean and tidy, with not much produce but abundant beverages and condiments. They are not hoarders of ingredients. They probably go out and get just enough groceries every time they cook.
- First, DANCE, for this apartment urged you to.
Then, discover an Indian style cookbook for vegetarians. Give it a good read and learn a few things.
Then return to the ingredients you searched out. They are the ones that you are familiar with. You always love pan fried vermicelli, but only learned to cook it out of your tastebud’s homesickness after you relocated to NYC. It is not hard, but it requires a bit of luck to find out the right cooking time for different kinds of vermicelli. Normally you would pan fry it with scallion, but in this kitchen, you only found kimchi, which turned out to be a nice twist. Another surprise hit you when you opened the egg container and found the eggshells of the consumed eggs. You didn’t understand why they were kept, but respected this rule by returning the shells of the eggs you cracked open.
Before you serve, open the cabinet for bowls, and wow at the shining glass.
- Gillen and Ash, and Flower were in their room when you occupied their kitchen, respecting your wish to be left alone. Towards the end of your visit, Ash came out to use the bathroom, and you had a delightful talk with her. You don’t normally talk deeply with strangers, but now that you cooked a meal in their kitchen, she didn’t feel like a stranger any more.
Flower couldn’t be kept in the room as soon as Ash opened the door. She rushed to the couch by the window and remained there ever since. You called her name, and she looked at you. It filled you with joy. You longed for a furry friend but never had the chance to have one of your own. To you, having a pet is such a symbol for stability: a roof to live under, the financial ability to keep it fed, and the ability to be the home for your pet. Maybe someday you will have your own. For now, you seize the chance to every proximity to a warm ball of fur.
Before you left, Gillen and Ash came to say goodbye. And yes, they are both very tall.
As soon as I saw the flyer taped to the pole I was intrigued. “May I use your kitchen? You get to keep the meal”. I had a lot of questions: Is this for a cookbook? What is the meal? Who is this person/people that would use my kitchen? It seemed like a brave thing to ask. I was suddenly aware of the intimacy involved in letting a stranger go through my kitchen drawers. Maybe this was a dare?
Reading the website told me so much more. I learned about the legend of the conch and the spirit that inhabited it. I was interested in the artist’s ideas about how trust can be exchanged, how this can function in a city of strangers, and how the Conch Girl could put this in practice. The artist and I shared a few texts and picked a date and time. In keeping with the rules of the legend, Ash and I agreed to be out of the house or in our rooms while the Conch Girl was in our kitchen. This was definitely an act of trust that gave me pause. Is it wise to let a stranger use your home so freely? But I was willing to offer trust and excited to see what might come of it.
The day of the meal, Ash and I were working from home and stayed in our rooms with the doors closed. We convinced our dog Flower to take the afternoon off from her usual guard duties – she stayed in the room with us. I was vaguely aware of something stirring in the kitchen. I could hear cupboards opening and closing, footsteps across the kitchen floor, the sound of a camera shutter. Maybe also the sounds of someone jumping? I was very curious to know what was happening, but I resisted the desire to open the door. Knowing that I had absolutely no groceries in the house, I self-consciously hoped that the Conch Girl brought their own supplies. I was embarrassed to think of someone looking through the boxes of leftovers in my fridge, and imagined there being nothing edible to cook. As the artist wrapped up and began to leave, Ash and I came out to say hello. We met Sidian and they showed us the two beautiful bowls of food on our table. We talked for a moment and heard stories from other kitchens around NYC. I was so surprised to see that the meal was fried rice noodles and kimchi – I didn’t know know I had those ingredients in the house. I think my friend may have left them behind after she stayed with us, and thank goodness for that! Once we were alone, Ash and I sat down to eat and appreciate the surprise meal from our own kitchen. It felt like a luxury to be cooked for, and to be taken on a tour of our own refrigerator. The meal felt like a gift, especially to have a clean kitchen with nothing left to wash. Ash and I marveled at that aspect especially.
Months later, Ash and I still occasionally wondered if we would ever see the photos Sidian took in our kitchen. It was fun imagining that we might not. I was happy to feel like a participant, in a way that felt like the whole point of the experience, and the photos should continue to exist in my imagination. As a total surprise however, Ash and I ran into Sidian while out walking Flower one weekend. They told us that they would share the final draft, and gave us an update on the project. We eagerly awaited the email!
When we got the email we were so excited to see it. We read the piece aloud from my phone. My first reaction was joy and surprise at all the details of my apartment that caught Sidian’s eye. I was amazed at how much she was able to surmise about Ash and I from small details. It was thrilling to see my home through the eyes of a stranger. The dancing photo made me smile. It made me happy to think that was the energy that Sidian felt in our living room. Ash and I read it a few times and smiled; we feel grateful to have participated in this project!