Years ago, I lived in a 5th floor Manhattan walk-up. For two years, I shared the stairwells and some walls, the sounds of our music and the smells of our cooking, with about fifty people I never spoke to beyond a casual hello or a shrugging complaint about the landlord. It wasn’t an exceptionally unfriendly building, it was just how we needed to live in order to maintain some privacy in such close quarters. It was a building, not a neighborhood.

So when Sarah Shey submitted an essay about finding community in Brooklyn by cooking for the Polish construction workers renovating her brownstone, the essay spoke to me, as I think it will speak to anyone who’s ever made a home among strangers. Sarah brought a little bit of her midwestern farm upbringing to her Brooklyn brownstone with some surprising, hilarious results. It’s a terrific food essay that includes a plate of cigarettes, a jello cake, a fair amount of frosting and a recipe for a perfect breakfast casserole.

Sarah still lives in that same brownstone with her family, and she makes a living as a journalist while working on children’s books about growing up on an Iowa farm. Learn more about her writing at her website.