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Touring the US with Mediaeval Baebes

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Touring the US with Mediaeval Baebes

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I’ve just returned to UK reality after touring the east coast of America with my band, Mediaeval Baebes.

In fact, it was definitely more of a crash landing, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by a concoction of delight and disorientation. 

I’ve had two weeks of hilarity and salacious tales: from White Russian parties in Maryland to rooftop partying with firemen in NYC, from hazy, mead-imbued late-night encounters with ex-jailbirds to flouncing around in cemeteries for photoshoots. I’ve met more people and fans of the Baebes’ music (and it has been an honour) in the last week than in the last year, from women with heaving bosoms in skull-coated corsets to a South Dakotan ranger who discovered a dinosaur on his territory, from cage fighters Instagram influencers to wiccans. 

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Those who are involved in the music industry will know that the intense peaks of performing are accompanied by elongated troughs of waiting around before and after sound checks, not to mention the driving from venue to venue, one state to the next.

But even the stretches of time were filled: from learning how to do the electric slide (an achievement for someone who can perform a semblance of a dance only to hip hop music), playing airplane with other band members (the childhood favourite of lifting someone into the air with your feet), to hours of ‘I Spy With My Third Eye’. 

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We were gifted things from the delicious to the ludicrous (though none of the following necessarily fit into the aforementioned categories):

hand sown leather wallets, chocolates, cases of homemade mead, hand-crafted wooden lanterns inlaid with silver, pumpkin bog wine (yes, that’s its official name) and goblets straight out of Game of Thrones. I’ve also signed an interesting range of specimens including various body parts, guitars and recorders, Gandalf-style staffs and animal-bone drinking horns. 

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I’ve witnessed the way in which music makes people dance and cry, and I’ve heard accounts of how some have walked down the aisle, given birth, and woken from comas to our music.

I’ve had ecstatic highs of my own (performing to over a thousand people in the middle of forest glades, and exhausted hysterical laughter set off by the merest glimmer of a joke) and extreme lows, where the adrenalin temporarily stopped, energy levels buckled and desolation took hold.

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Being on the road for two weeks has also meant that I have been lurching between feast and famine.

The restaurant selection in NYC is almost infinite. The highlights this time round included the following:

The Pool, one of NYC’s finest fish restaurants. While I am not a huge seafood eater and am largely vegetarian, the branzino was the best I have ever eaten – delicate and tender without need for any fancy sauces or dressings. The room is elegant and slightly imposing and the service impeccable (apart from the moment when I collided with a waiter en route to the bathroom and he succeeded in pouring champagne directly down my chest). 

Barrio Chino: my favourite Lower East Side Mexican haunt. It used to be a hidden secret, without website and only noticeable in passing if you were in the know. It has now become a bit more open about its existence, but the quality has not diminished. Go for the extensive range of margaritas (from chili to berry to tamarind – the list goes on). The tacos are also delicious, but the show stoppers are the enchiladas – suffused with flavour and fresh herbs and oozing with molten queso – this is the only place I will eat them. The ambience is also electric. I went on a Tuesday evening and it was packed and totally abuzz.

The Butcher’s Daughter– I got caught in the tail end of Hurricane Florence and had to battle through headache-inducing heavy rain to get here. It was worth it. This vegetarian NYC and LA hotshot has a sublime selection of fresh and wholesome, zingy, protein-rich salads. I had the self-professed” Best Kale Salad” and added some veggie chicken into the kale, red cabbage, green apple, jalapeno, red onion, mint, turmeric and cashew mix.

Dean & Deluca– In some ways I am sad that their plans to open a branch in London fell through and that they have settled for selling a minor selection of products at Selfridges. In other ways I am not, because if they had opened here I would probably have moved in and would now be rolling around due to gorging upon their selection of salads and endless array of artisanal snacks. Every time I walked past the crisp white exterior in NYC, I felt its magnetism drawing me in. Mostly I managed to restrict myself to buying a selection of salads. All are excellent, but the highlights were the General Tso cauliflower – battered, deep-fried and coated in a moreish, sticky sweet, umami sauce - and the sriracha-soaked tofu. The soups there are as good as many you would enjoy in a high-end restaurant. 

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Conversely, I’ve experienced pit stop, intra-state, highway grub, with the choice between early-onset obesity via deep fried foods, diabetes through the sugar-laden, inevitably chocolate-peanut butter coated candies, or heart attack via the sodium-laden snacks (I opted for the latter). 

The most radical of trends that emerged was the “substance on a stick” that prevailed as a dining option in the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The good folk of the festival clearly thought they were on to a good thing with this particular serving contrivance and didn’t feel the need for variation. Options included the following (see pictures for evidence):  white chocolate-coated key lime pie on a stick, dark chocolate-immersed cheesecake on a stick, sausage on a stick, chocolate-covered peanut butter pie on a stick, and macaroni cheese on a stick. The lattermost culinary innovation was my favourite - a praiseworthy feat of science, concocted to adhere strictly to the theme. Even the choice meat option, turkey leg, was by its very nature “on a stick” – the Neanderthal look of gnawing the dull red flesh from the bone worked well with those who were dressed in animal horns and fur (of which there were many).

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And so I am back in reality – or what I can piece together:

it may only have been two weeks away but it feels weird to have to pronounce the “t” in water again (rather than a “d”) to make my request understood, to ask directions for the “loo”, not restroom, to not be in a tour bus laughing hysterically with eight other wickedly funny band (coven) members, to not feeling the daily adrenaline rush of performing and experiencing post-gig tequila-fueled highs, to not dancing to old school hip hop tunes in hotel rooms until 3am, and to reverting to cutlery after becoming accustomed to sticks. 

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Maryland Renaissance Festival

NYC

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Eating New York

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Eating New York

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I write this sitting on the flight to New York in stasis mode, having metamorphosed into a sedentary lump.  The invisible but insidious radiation, and the already- breathed air must be to blame for my lack of concentration:  I’ve started five films, and finished one – a saccharine, brainless comedy. And in this reduced state, my thoughts revolve around my stomach (more than usual). The looming flight attendant and her trolley are causing spikes in adrenaline –so attuned to the possibility of food delivery am I that I’m reacting pavlovianally to the click of the locker doors as the meals are unloaded. By flying west, I’ve gained time.  More time equals more meals. I had breakfast and lunch at home, but the grey boredom of airports requires food for stimulation. The pre-flight, Prêt snack ritual has been observed.  But that has not deterred me from munching through the 5pm dinner (chicken, and sticky-toffee pudding - and not bad actually. Better, in fact, than the recent attempt at a repast at The Palomar – see my review). 

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In-flight entertainment is clearly not being served by the screen in front of me, but instead by the rotating supply of snacks from the “Wonder Wall”. These fill the flight with purpose: I must try every one of these matte- packaged, faux-healthy snacks.  Initially, I feel pride as I conquer them: a nut-free, oat bar so small that I need to have two just to make sure I document the flavour correctly; a tiny packet of popcorn that is apparently “cheese toasty and caramel flavour” (too weird not to try); some vegan sour sweets (only four in a pack - what a tease, two please); olives; hand cut crisps that promise to be artisanal (I’m sold); two-bite bars of Himalayan salted chocolate that barely register due to their shrunken format.

At 11pm UK time, I’m served afternoon tea (a selection of cakes, a scone, and some mayonnaise-suffused sandwiches). I persevere with these.  There’s no stopping me now.

It’s half an hour until landing, and reality is beginning to set in. I’m surrounded by a shameful nest of wrappers: unequivocal evidence of my greed and boredom.

Pride has turned to nausea.  

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After a day of recovery, I launched myself on to the NYC dining scene. I’m mainly vegetarian, so most restaurants set out below are either fully plant-based, or vegetarian/vegan-friendly. This is by no means an exhaustive list but an account of the places that I enjoyed (with one rather off-putting experience).

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The Fat Radish

Vibe: Vegetable-focused Modern European cuisine in an earthy chic paradise.

Highlights:  Though not vegetarian, the vegan and vegetarian options are numerous and innovative (refreshingly not pasta or risotto). Order several of the sweet pea pot pies which are so good I’ve had to replicate them twice since returning to London. The Macro plate and banoffee pies are also must-eats. Booking is essential.

Lowlights: None. 

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/restricted diets

Where: Lower East Side

http://www.thefatradishnyc.com

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Jajaja Plantas Mexicana

Vibe: Vegan innovative Mexican style cuisine in a vibrant, bustling urban cafe

Highlights: No one at my table could get enough of the nachos with vegan chorizo, fermented black beans, turmeric vegan queso fundito, spicy vegetable relish, and vegan sour cream. The crispy chayote ‘fish’ tacos with chipotle almond butter and pickled red onion are also deliciously different.

Lowlights: no booking, and the tightly packed restaurant mean that you should avoid peak meal hours. Service also slows drastically during these times.

Good for: vegans/restricted diets/casual dining/adventurous eaters

Where: Lower East Side (near China Town)

https://www.jajajamexicana.com/

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Root & Bone

Vibe: rustic-modern take on Southern-American comfort food.

Highlights: The buttermilk biscuits are freshly baked, and so light they melt on your tongue. The side of honey butter just helps them slide down even more sweetly. Crispy topped and golden, with unending tangles of molten cheese, the mac and cheese is amongst the best.

Lowlights: The fried chicken. I may have gone with warped expectations – I had primed myself for strips of chicken breast coasted in thick crispy-crunchy breadcrumbs (especially good at London’s Mother Clucker). However, what arrived was a basketful of dismembered chicken body parts. The rebellious wing bone protruding uncomfortably from the thin batter was enough to put me off. However, this may just be a personal dislike.

Good for: comfort food/family gatherings

Where: East Village

http://www.rootnbone.com/

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Talde

Vibe: Casual Asian-American cross-over cuisine in a dark wooden pub from Top Chef contestant, Dale Talde

Highlights: I’m not a big meat eater, and I never eat chicken wings. However, I make a very rare exception for the Kung Pao wings which are ridiculously sticky and succulent – order many. The Pad Thai puts most to shame with its zingy freshness too.

Lowlights: The bibinkga divided opinion with its eggy coconut texture. I came around to it after the third mouthful.

Good for: inventive cooking/vegetarians/brunch/casual dining

Where: Park Slope, Brooklyn

https://www.taldebrooklyn.com

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By Chloe

Vibe: Airy, female-flocking, vegan café (also in London)

Highlights: The salad portions are generous – my favourite is Spicy Thai which, with its kale base, crispy wontons, apricot-glazed tempeh and spicy peanut dressing, is a mouth workout in a bowl - but every mouthful is worth savouring. The tempeh-lentil chia classic burger and kale-artichoke dip are also major hits.

Lowlights: The London branch is not restful as you have to wait for your name to be shouted out to pick up your food. The NYC branch I visited was great.

Good For: vegans/vegetarians/healthy eating/casual meals

Where: West Village

https://eatbychloe.com

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Van Leeuwen

Vibe: artisanal vegan and dairy ice-cream served from wholesome butter-coloured trucks and stores around NYC

Highlights: the vegan honeycomb is a sludgy grey but don’t let that put you off. Made with cashew coconut and cocoa butter it is ambrosial. The non-vegan peanut butter and marshmallow crunch and Sicilian pistachio are also sublime. 

Lowlights: It’s addictive – I began to think they were stalking me as I managed to go past at least one Van Leeuwen truck or shop every day… and failed to resist each time.

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/innovatively flavoured ice creams

Where: multiple locations

http://www.vanleeuwenicecream.com/

 

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Black Seed Bagels

Vibe: pared down, fresh out of oven, open bakery

Highlights: multi-everything bagel – get there early in the day to get it piping hot from the oven

Lowlights: Addictiveness – I once ate 4 black seed bagels in a row.

Good for: breakfast on the go, vegans, high-carb gluten-full diets

Where: Nolita, Battery Park City, East Village

http://blackseedbagels.com

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Levain Bakery

Vibe: stripped back, no-frills bakery for some straight-to-the-point indulgence

Highlights: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter chip cookie – thick, crunchy on the outside, fudgy inside loaded with an abundance of peanut butter chips – there is a reason it has been named best cookie in NYC. 

Lowlights: Lines for the bakery can get rather long, so go at a strategic, off-peak time

Good for: over indulgence and sweet-tooth satisfaction

Where: West 74th St, Harlem

https://www.levainbakery.com

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El Luchador (Tacos vs Burritos)

Vibe: Hole-in-the wall, cheap, simple and brilliant Mexican food haunt. London could do with mowing down its innumerable greasy kebab joints and replacing them with this.

Highlights: the pollo asado burrito. Spicy, fresh, busting with flavour and filling 

Lowlights: None

Good for: late night cravings, fresh Mexican food, done well (a rarity in London), vegetarian, vegan

Where: Lower East side

http://elluchador.nyc

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