North Shore Chicken Barley Soup

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That’s about the only advice I have left to manage this beast of a winter. If we can’t get the ice and cold and snow and general misery to disappear any faster, we might as well get out an enjoy it.

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Last weekend Greg and I headed up for our annual February trip to the North Shore with one mission in mind: show this Minnesota winter we’re not scared. We can have a good time when it’s this cold. {Insert my puffed-out-parka-can’t-stop-this-chick-in-extra-heavy-long-underwear look.}

Apostle Islands Visitor's Center

Our big adventure of the long weekend was a day trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Like the 75,998 other people who have visited the park so far this season, we saw the gorgeous photos of the mainland sea caves iced over and had to get a closer look.  For the past 5 years the only way to see the caves was from sea kayak in the summertime. But every so often when we have bitter cold like this year, the ice is thick enough to support curious visitors staring up at the strange and beautiful ice formations clinging to the rocks. It’s a good way to celebrate what silver linings we have left in this winter.

Mother Nature wasn’t giving in to our plans very easily though…

On Friday the caves were closed after the colossal snowstorm that dumped 10″ of snow on most of Minnesota dropped up to 18″ in the Ashland/Bayfield area of the park. The giant sheets of ice on Lake Superior move in windy snowstorm conditions, so the danger of thin ice in and around the caves was a possibility also.

Mainland Sea Caves
Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Saturday morning we waited patiently in the hotel room, refreshing Facebook and calling the hotline for cave conditions. We had no idea if the weather would hold long enough to go, but at 10:30 a.m. when we got the clear we jumped in the car and raced around western edge of Lake Superior.

Walk to Mainland Sea Caves
Walk to Mainland Ice Caves

We should have checked the wind chill before we left.

What these photos don’t show is the sub-zero temperatures and 25 mph sustained winds on the lake we met when we got there. Mostly because we could take 1 or 2 pictures before our cameras and phones froze and had to be tucked back into our coats to warm up. It. Was. Cold. Like so bad you can’t breathe from the pressure of the wind blowing on your chest.

Greg’s comment when we made it back to the car: “I don’t think I want to climb Everest anymore.”

So much for showing winter who’s boss…

Ice Caves

Mainland Ice Caves

I’ve written about Duluth and the North Shore here before and how it’s the best place for me to unplug, relax and recharge for what’s ahead. With us both starting new jobs on January 1st, the ongoing MBA homework and trying to trudge through this cold we needed this weekend more than ever. The Apostle Islands visit was an added bonus. And although we may not have beaten winter up this time, we did come home ready to face what’s left of the winter season.

Mainland Ice Caves - Icicles
Mainland Ice Caves

On Sunday evening we were back in St. Paul, rested and making the preparations for another busy week. In honor of our cold weather adventure I made a fresh batch of chicken barley soup, hearty and warm just like the people on the North Shore. I love how the carrots and potatoes simmer slowly with the nutty flavor of barley until the house smells divine. It’s the kind of comfort food that will keep you warm through whatever these last few weeks of winter have in store.

Chicken Barley Soup

North Shore Chicken Barley Soup

Recipe by Minnesota Locavore


For the Broth
1, 3-4 pound whole boiler-fryer chicken
3 cups of celery roughly chopped
1 cup onion, quartered
2 large carrots, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For the Soup
1 1/2 cups hulled barley
2 cups carrots, cut into 1/4″ coins
2 cups waxy-variety potatoes like Yukon, Fingerling, or Red Gold cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup onion, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Place chicken and broth vegetables in a large stock pot. Fill pot with water until chicken is just covered (about 8 cups). Season with salt and pepper.
2. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fully cooked and meat easily separates from the bones, about 75-90 minutes.
3. Remove pot from heat, pull out chicken and allow remaining broth to cool slightly. Remove meat and discard any remaining bones. Gently pull apart or slice meat into spoon-sized pieces. Set aside. When broth has cooled slightly, carefully skim any fat that has separated to the top of the pot with a spoon. You may also remove the cooked vegetables at this time and reserve only the broth, or leave them in for extra flavor like I do.
4. Return the pot to a medium-low flame until gently boiling. Stir in barley. Allow barley to boil for 10 minutes. Add in carrot coins, potatoes, onion. Re-season with salt and pepper to taste. Boil vegetables and barley for another 15-20 minutes or until barley is tender.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add in shredded chicken meat and heat until warmed completely. Soup is great served immediately but improves in flavor after a night in the refrigerator.

One quick note: I used hulled barley (germ still on) for this recipe which adds some cooking time on. If you’re in a pinch, substitute in the non-whole grain pearled barley.

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