During that first meeting with Neil, we discussed summer plans. It was June 8, and we both had the whole summer laid out in front of us. My plans? Studying for the bar exam. Period. The End. His plans? Taking a youth group trip to Alaska for a pilgrimage. If Alaska seems like an odd choice, consider this: it was June 2002, less than a year after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The original plans had been to go to Italy, but parents were understandably nervous about sending their teenagers abroad during the planning stages of the trip. And so, the group quickly changed plans and aimed north instead, for a domestic adventure of sorts.
Neil had been to Alaska as a teenager himself, with a mission trip for the Moravian Church. My family’s ties to Alaska were starting to form, and my parents also had a church trip planned there for that summer. (My childhood priest and close family friend, Mark MacDonald, was the Bishop of Alaska at the time.) So, when Neil told me about his plans to head to Alaska with a bunch of teenagers, I said, “Oh. You’ll probably run into my parents there.”
“Well, they’re going there this summer as well.”
“Carrie, Alaska is pretty big. How are you so sure I’ll run into them? Are they working as greeters at the airport or something?”
“Alaska is a big state, but they have big personalities.”
It’s no small thing that he still talked to me at all after that.
He did, and a few weeks later, he called me from Alaska. “We’re in Fairbanks! It’s beautiful. When are your parents going to be here?”
I shoved aside a practice bar exam, probably covered in crumbs and popcorn, to talk to him. “I’m not sure, but I can find out. Where are you staying?”
“In a hotel downtown. I think I’d like to meet them.”
I had laid some groundwork, because I am no fool. Knowing that I liked him (a lot), and knowing that my parents would meet him eventually, if not in Alaska, I called them separately to talk about it, before the trip. My dad was at our church camp, and I called him on the little phone that sits off of the kitchen in the old Victorian house where the camp was held. (Lumber barons. Separate story.)
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” My dad was concerned as to why I was calling him at camp, during his week at chaplain duty.
“Well, nothing’s wrong, but I want to talk to you about Mom. I think you might run into Neil while you’re in Alaska, and I really don’t want him to be scared off, so will you do me a favor and make sure she’s not too … too much like a therapist?” (She *is* a therapist, and the neutral therapist face can be scary.)
“Of COURSE I will! I am on his side. I’m on your side. It’ll be great!”
“Thanks, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you, too, sweetie. Study hard.”
That same night, knowing that Dad was safely 100 miles away at summer camp, I called my mom at home, and begged her to keep my dad from being too weirdly dad-ish, and she of course agreed to make sure he was on his best behavior. If my parents are working against each other for a common purpose, I reasoned, then they might be too distracted to give him too much of a hard time.
They did meet Neil in Fairbanks, after I aided and abetted the situation by telling Neil where they were staying. (What could be the harm? They would be too busy giving each other “we’ve-been-married-forever-but-I’m-not-afraid-to-kill-you-if-you-mess-this-up” glares to really bother Neil too much.) Neil made sure the teenagers were safely under the care of the other chaperones, and he walked across Fairbanks to meet my parents. (He swears that this is not as grand of a gesture as it sounds, as Fairbanks is pretty small. But still.) My parents were waiting up for a group from Wisconsin to come to the airport, so they stayed awake with Neil in the hotel lobby and had some drinks. Neil rode with them to the airport and helped some older ladies with their luggage (swoon), and then I think they met up the next day on a boat tour.
Late that night, or maybe early the next morning, my dad called me and woke me up. “I TOLD YOU.”
“Huh? What? What time is it?”
“I told you that you’d find someone who’s good enough for you.”
“Oh, DAD. You didn’t do anything embarrassing, did you?”
“I just told him that I’m selling the horse.”
(That’s another whole story, but to sum up: when I was about eight years old, my dad promised me a horse if I never dated anyone, and promised to stay at home with him forever and ever amen. When I was eight, I wanted the horse. When I was sixteen, it was a different story. He never intended to buy a damn horse, and of course he never did. But that was his shorthand way of saying to Neil, “She’s all yours, cowboy.”)
While they were all in Alaska and I was toiling away back in Virginia, Neil ate whale blubber preserved in seal oil. It was a “local experience,” and he had to be a good sport as a chaperone to the kids. By all reports, it was disgusting, and Bishop MacDonald has even been known to say that when Jesus told his disciples to go out into the world and eat what’s put in front of them, even Jesus Himself could not have imagined whale blubber preserved in seal oil. But of course, that’s not the only thing that Alaska has to offer. I’m sure that all of my favorite travelers ate some salmon while they were there, and this was one of our favorite salmon recipes from Cooking Light magazine when we were newlyweds. This was before I was heavily into Ina, of course, because I can’t imagine Ina would ever use frozen orange juice concentrate on anything. But it tastes good, and it’s not like they’re growing oranges in Alaska, so the frozen kind works. We try to buy wild salmon, and I usually get it at Costco.
- Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 steak and 2 tablespoons orange sauce)
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1 (6-ounce) can thawed orange juice concentrate
- 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, skinned (1 inch thick)
- Cooking spray
- Orange wedges (optional)
- Flat-leaf parsley sprigs (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°.
Combine first 9 ingredients in a bowl; brush both sides of fish with the orange mixture. Reserve remaining orange mixture. Place fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
Place remaining orange mixture in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 2 minutes). Serve with fish, and garnish with orange wedges and parsley, if desired.