At the Bar: Thinking About Spring During the Hard Time

Nothing like making sun tea in the snow

By Mark Hinds | Updated May 20, 2021

It was a long bitterly cold winter in Minnesota this past year, the kind of winter that makes you think about how you can’t wait for global warming to get here.  Up in the frozen North, we all have our own ways of dealing with winters like this, for me it’s making sure I spend as much time as possible outside, playing broomball, cross-country skiing, or whatever I can do to make sure I’m spending time in the sun.

It’s a cold and somewhat unpopular choice; many people prefer the approach of staying inside and complaining to everyone about how much they hate winter.  For those of us who choose to embrace living in a ridiculously cold place, January isn’t the problem, the issue is when you get to the end of March and the beginning of April.

It’s the time of year we call the hard time; the reason it’s such a hard time is because all the snow and ice have turned to mush, the birds have started to sing, and you can start to feel spring hiding around the corner.  It’s hard because spring in Minnesota is a tease.  It starts by giving you a 40 degree day here and 45 degree there, followed by March blizzards, sudden drops below zero, mixed in with weeks of 30 degree weather warm enough to make it feel like you should be outside when your inside and cold enough to make you feel like you should be inside when your outside.

Depending on the winter and the spring, or as often happens the lack thereof, this can go on for months.  Every Minnesotan copes with the hard time in their own way.  I start to long for summer days at the cabin, friends around the table, and fresh, healthy food that wakes you up when you take a bite.

A challenge of trying to eat seasonally is that you spend a lot of the winter eating slow-cooked soups and stews that are delicious and filling and warm you up deep inside when you’ve been outside in the frozen cold.  And as warm and delicious as they are, they are filling and heavy and so often full of fat and girth that they make you want to curl up and hibernate until spring.

So by the time we get to the hard time all I want is something fresh, something light, something that has known life and seen the sun more recently than I have.  It’s the time of year where I start cooking ahead of the season.

This past year I compensated by making things like grilled salmon with tomatoes and glacier style iced tea brewed on mounds of snow and ice in the backyard.  I started dreaming about breakfast on the porch, the first gin and tonic of the summer, homemade burgers on the grill, and how cold I’ve been wearing coats that are still too light for the season.

There is something fulfilling in the ridiculousness of standing outside in 15 degree weather in front of the grill as your shivering trying to get this light summer salmon dish to turn out as you’re thinking about how you can’t wait to make the same thing in three months when you’ll be wearing shorts, chatting with a group of friends, and drinking some fresh summer cocktails.

Mark Hinds is the Founder and Publisher of Umami, his “At the Bar” columns are his excuse to spend time in great bars “conducting research” and writing about what’s happening with Umami and in life.  

Mark is an experienced food writer, recipe developer, and photographer who is also Umami’s publisher and CEO. A passionate cook who loves to cook for friends, he can often be found in the kitchen or by the grill testing new recipes.

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