Priscilla Timberlake and Lewis Freedman are an extraordinary couple. For more than 17 years, they have opened their home every Friday evening to family and community members for a three course macrobiotic feast of gluten-free, vegan, nutritious and soul-sparking food. That’s right! The furniture gets moved into the basement and tables pop up throughout the living room, kitchen and foyer. On average, fifty people arrive and nestle around the bright linens, flickering candles and seasonal centerpieces. It feels like home.
This is how The Great Life Cookbook was born. Priscilla and Lewis make it clear that this is a community project; their most devoted diners tested the recipes and turned in piles of notes. But honestly, who wouldn’t be giddy at the chance to finally discover the secrets behind Lewis and Priscilla’s famous raw pressed salads with lemon tahini dressing, or vanilla cake with vanilla cream and blueberry sauce.
The couple’s commitment to “the great life” shines through in every detail, including where they source their food. Lewis says proudly, “Ninety percent of the ingredients we use come from our friend Teresa’s farm, just down the road.” Ah, cooks after my own heart!
Tell me about your favorite memory of playing with food.
Priscilla says, “When I had my first two kids, food became such a big deal because I had more people in the family.” (She now has four children, all of whom were home-schooled). “Right around dinner was the worst time. I decided I was going to start cooking to relax when [the kids] went to bed, which totally turned around my pattern.” Before that, Priscilla grumbles “I was like ‘Kitchen closed! Mom is reading a book! It’s my time!’” With the optimism and conviction that is so characteristic of Priscilla, she says “I realized that I was never going to cook under stress – that’s when I really started playing with food. When the kids went to bed I started reading cookbooks about plant-based foods. I realized how much I loved working with the colors and the feel of vegetables. I decided to [cook] as a healing thing and everything turned around. My attitude shifted.”
I asked Priscilla to teach me about macrobiotic food and diet. Her answer made me feel enlightened and magnificent. “Macrobiotic is the great life. It is a philosophy of life and really knowing that we are all part of one big wonderful universe.” A macrobiotic diet, which is mostly plant-based and seasonal, isn’t just about connecting with living food – it’s also about healing. “So many people have been sick and gotten back into balance by taking responsibility for their own health and what they put in their mouth.” Priscilla suggests that eating this way helps “to know yourself energetically.” She explains with stage-worthy gestures, “We’re all made up of expansive energy. You know when you’re like ‘OH MY GOD, WHAT A GREAT DAY!’ and then other days you’re like ‘hurrumph’ and you pull into yourself more closely.” Priscilla smiles to herself, “It’s wonderful stuff.”
What food are you most passionate about preparing?
Priscilla and Lewis’s responses are like yin and yang, perfect compliments to each other in simplicity and complexity, with a shared passion.
Priscilla knows immediately: “The one thing I really love, that’s really simple, is kabocha squash. I was out of balance a couple weeks ago and I fasted for the first time in years.” After, “I craved that bright orange, rich kabocha. Just put it in a cast iron pan with a little water and sea salt and cook it up – it’s just like heaven!”
Lewis muses for a moment before his face lights up. “Croquettes! I like the cutting and the squeezing and the forming and the creating – all those steps. People really love that touch. We make a millet croquette that’s really good. But I have to be in the right mood – sometimes it’s a lot of work. If you’re in the right mood though, you’re passionate. Then all that work is worthwhile. If you’re not passionate about it, it feels like work.” What a sage!
Tell me about someone who has left a special imprint on your cooking style or in your kitchen.
Lewis pays homage to one of his great teachers, Julie Jordan, owner of the former Ithaca restaurant, Cabbage Town. “When I was working in her restaurant in the late 70s, I somehow moved from just cooking to cooking in a more professional way.” He gestures to the stovetop as the diners begin to file in, “You know – to make a pot of soup this big from scratch – well, there’s a confidence that I gained from cooking at Cabbage Town.” He adds as hardly an afterthought, “The real answer is Priscilla. Priscilla’s confidence in teaching and cooking far surpasses anybody else.” My recorder picks up Priscilla, blowing kisses to Lewis across the kitchen. “She has taught me to relax and just get into the flow. She commits, makes it happen and trusts that it’s going to be great. She has no doubt, and that’s amazing.”
What do you choose to do when you have playtime?
Lewis asks, “Does the sauna count as playtime?” Um, yes. Their gorgeous hand-built sauna is tucked against the forest edge at the bottom of their sloped yard, with a serene (and often frigid) natural-spring pond for cooling off.
Priscilla loves to read and to take her dog out for long walks. “Walking is my absolute favorite thing. Just walking, moving my body, seeing different sights, seeing the seasons….”
Lewis also likes to run, but is actually really looking forward to “puttering.’” I giggle and ask what he means. He clarifies, “I’m ready to retire and just “putter!” Fix my lawn mower, trim the hedges, or plant a tree. All the little things that take some slowing down and looking at it and thinking about it.” I wonder when I’ll be old enough to retire, though I wouldn’t trade the chance to meet and eat with folks like Lewis and Priscilla for any amount of puttering!