Listen to stories about food and family as we enter the holiday season

Michelle Rogers
| USA TODAY Network

Tracy Schuhmacher didn’t feel great about her housekeeping skills and the ins-and-outs of being a self-described stay-at-home-mom in 2004. She loved to cook.

“The one thing that gave me a sense of confidence and accomplishment was cooking and baking for friends and family,” she said. “I decided to use those skills to enter the Pillsbury Bake-off and try to win the grand prize of $1 million.”

Now a food, drink and culture writer at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, Schuhmacher will talk about whether she won or lost, and how she felt about it, on Nov. 16 as part of the USA TODAY Network’s Storytellers Project show, “Food and Family.”

Tune in online at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. Five personal stories from real people. Register in advance to receive a reminder and watch on USA TODAY’s Facebook page, YouTube channel or website.

Schuhmacher will be joined by:

  • Stephanie Laska of San Francisco
  • Rohini Chandra, 31, of Los Angeles
  • Melissa Soza Fees, 54, of Phoenix
  • Gabrielle Shea, 41, of Brooklyn, New York

Chandra, a first-generation Asian-Indian American and filmmaker, will share a story about traveling to see her parents in India about two years ago. During the visit, she noticed smoke in the distance while looking from the 10th floor of her parents’ high-rise building. She looked into the matter and found a group of farm laborers leading a protest.

In talking with them, Chandra said she felt a kinship and developed a deep respect for their work. “I hope people can relate to the touching and heartwarming experience that I had meeting a farmer family from India, whose world is so different than ours,” she stated.

Soza Fees will tell a story about her grandmother, whom she lovingly calls Nana, teaching her how to cook. These lessons taught her more than technique and process. She also shared wisdom with her Nana about the importance of passing on family stories and traditions through food.

“I hope listeners take away how we can honor the memory of a person when we cook their recipes,” she said.

Shea’s story is about failing at something and then getting a shot at redemption. Shea’s story centers on Thanksgiving. When she was invited to visit her boyfriend’s family, she decided to bring her special dish of macaroni & cheese.

“I put sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk. She said it was disgusting and she was shocked.

Shea had a second chance to make the dish at Christmas.

“His whole family loved it,” she stated. “We were married. And 20 years and three children later, I still make mac and cheese for every occasion and it is still the most sought after dish on the dinner table.”

Laska’s story is about her desire to change some bad habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle. When her son was too small to be protected on a ride, the safety bar stopped at her waist.

“It wasn’t until my son nearly lost his life on a roller coaster that I finally kicked losing weight into high gear,” she said. I’m living proof of sustainable weight loss without having to follow restrictive and unnecessary rules. As it turns out, you can have your sugar-free cake and eat it too.”

WATCH: Episodes from the Storytellers Project

Learn more about the Storytellers Project and apply to tell a story in 2022 at

Need to know

What: “Food and Family”

Where: The Storytellers Project’s Facebook Page, YouTube channel and website.

When: Nov. 16, 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET

More: Watch past virtual shows on YouTube and recorded in-person shows on the Storytellers Project’s website.

Upcoming virtual shows

Dec.14: Holidays

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