A Blast from the Past: NORAD Tracks Santa

noradsantaFor 50 years NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been protecting North American airspace from enemy attack, and for most of those years they have been tracking the Christmas Eve movements of none other than Santa Claus. Growing up in the 1960’s meant the Cold War was pretty much a hypothetical concept since “duck and cover” drills and bomb shelters were products of the 1950’s. Even a thing as scary as the Cold War didn’t put a dent into the typical Patio kid’s Christmas expectations (a true Christmas spirt will evolve later). We all had a faint idea that the F-102 interceptors at the local air base were there to keep the bay guys away, but other than that, we fully expected Santa Claus to made his journey through the world’s airspaces unimpeded. After all, fighter escorts from the North American Air Defense Command guaranteed his passage to the United States! I remember checking up on Santa’s Christmas Eve progress by watching the NORAD Tracks Santa black and white film clips on TV. Usually a very serious airman with black rimmed glasses would be shown carefully monitoring a radar screen while reporting Santa’s position to his commander who would then scramble jets to escort him into North America. Hopefully, the Soviets wouldn’t shoot down our hero in red…after all, I had a new banana seat bike riding on his safe arrival!

Black and white film clips have since given way to the computer animated, internet driven wonder we see today, and the excitement is even greater. Now you can track the Big Man yourself on Christmas Eve at http://www.noradsanta.org

November 30, 2008 at 9:19 am Leave a comment

Eerie Numbers Stations for Halloween

“Numbers Stations”, byproducts of the Cold War, were cryptic coded numerical messages that would appear on various short wave frequencies then abruptly end. It is believed that these mysterious messages were intended for field agents of various world intelligence services during the Cold War era. Although super power tensions have eased somewhat in the 21st century, numbers stations still operate out of Latin America and Cuba. Whatever their purpose, numbers stations make for an eerie, yet realistic, opportunity for Halloween fun! Listen…

October 29, 2008 at 7:31 pm Leave a comment

Green Slime!

B-movie action at its best! I actually saw this movie in the theater thinking to my nine year old self “Cool special effects! Don’t touch those monsters! Wow, that lady’s space dress is tight!”. Actually, I can’t really remember seeing any slime; the title must refer to some type of alien racial slur. After all of these years it’s the theme song that sticks in my mind….Green Sliiimmme….

August 18, 2008 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment

Kebabs: Paleo-Modernity on a Stick

Sometime around a million years ago, Homo Erectus figured out that his discovery of fire could be used to cook meat. Besides the increased survivability cooking offered in terms of disease reduction, the softer food could be chewed by even the weakest members of the tribe. It was simple. Just skewer the day’s kill onto a stick, roast, and eat. We can only speculate that early man also had the faculty to appreciate the kebabs on the grillflavor that only fire can impart. Fast forward about a million years into the future (minus about 50 or so) and we arrive at a time when this iconic technique is identified with a society that reached the pinnacle of outdoor cooking…the Patio Culture. Mid-Century grill men took what was primarily a Mediterranean cooking technique and brought it into the American mainstream. As stated before, the simplicity was undeniable. This, however, gave the chef little opportunity to express his individuality. To get around this, outdoor chefs discovered they could create marinades to alter the flavor of the meat and add various vegetables to make an otherwise mundane dish spectacular in both taste and presentation. The following is intended to be a generalized overview to guide you through the sheer diversity of kebab variations.

Use the right tools for the job!

To begin your foray into the world of kebab grilling you’ll first need decent skewers. As traditional Middle Eastern grill men know, the flat sword type skewers are preferable as they keep the meat and vegetables from spinning around on the skewer. They should be long enough so that the handles can remain a somewhat safe distance from the heat source. Bamboo skewers are good for smaller individual servings, but be sure to soak them for 30 minutes prior to putting them on the grill. As always, a bed of glowing coals (charcoal or otherwise) rather than a blazing fire is the cooking environment you’ll need.

Marinade it!
kebab marinade
Unless you have access to some prime beef such as Kobe, you’ll probably need to marinate the meat. This is especially true if you’re using typical cuts of stew meat, a popular choice for American style kebabs. The simple chemistry of a decent marinade is one part acid (lemon, lime, vinegar, etc.) to about two parts oil…similar to a vinaigrette. To the marinade base you can add just about anything. Common ingredients include, but are not limited to, chopped onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, even honey (use care with sweet ingredients as they can easily burn on the grill). Time is the next factor. Marinade the meat for at least 4 hours with overnight being even better.

Cindy’s Kebab Marinade

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • juice from 20 oz. can of chunk pineapple (use pineapple for skewers)
  • juice from one lime
  • 1/2 cup prepared teriyaki marinade
  • 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Mix all ingredients together and marinate meat overnight.kebab meat

Add the works!

When the meat has had time to properly marinate, pat dry and begin threading onto a skewer. Here’s where I differ from traditional kebab techniques. I prefer to have skewers with only meat, and separate skewers devoted to the vegetables. The simple truth of this is because it takes longer for the meat to cook than the vegetables. If you want to go with the more traditional approach, alternate meat and vegetables, but watch them closely to make sure they don’t get overcooked! The old standby veggies such as bell pepper, onion, mushroom, and cherry tomatoes are great, but don’t feel limited to those choices. Any vegetable that is somewhat firm can be used, as well as, fruits (pineapple being my favorite).

Smoked Mushrooms (for when they don’t all fit on the skewers!)smoked mushrooms

  • 1 lb. whole mushrooms, cleaned and with trimmed stems
  • 3 Tbs. fresh cilantro leaves, no stems
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a metal pan (one you use for your smoker), melt the butter and mix with the wine. Add the mushrooms to coat well and top with salt, pepper, and cilantro. Simmer on the back of the smoker for about 45 minutes or until mushrooms are soft. Great side dish for any barbeque.
meat on bamboo skewers
Use a thematic approach!

These combinations of marinades, meats, fruits, and vegetables work best when they follow at least some semblance of a flavor theme. For instance, traditional (as stated above), Asian (soy sauce based marinade and fruits served with rice), Mediterranean (using lemon and olive oil marinades served with couscous), and Mexican (roasted meat for tacos al pastor, and grilled green onions on the side).
kebabs and rice

Roast and serve!

With your coals ready, load the skewers onto the grill and cook for about 10-15 minutes being sure to turn often. A little vegetable char on the mixed kebabs is OK but a light coating of cooking spray helps with this. Serve the entire mixed skewer for show, or de-skewer the meat and vegetables, combine, and serve over your choice of carbohydrate. Again, it’s up to you but rice pilaf or couscous are the most common.

August 17, 2008 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Foiled Again! Cooking in a Pouch

Foil cookeryWith the high price of gasoline taking an ever bigger bite out of our summer entertainment budgets, one does not have to travel far from home to enjoy a classic retro outdoor grilling excursion.Bringing back an outdoor cooking technique from the mid-century Patio Culture, foil cookery is an easy and cheap way to appease the Gods of Grilling Past and have fun closer to home. The premise is ridiculously simple. Pack complete and portable meals inside foil cooking pouches, load them into a cooler, take them anywhere you can build a fire, eat them, and clean up with minimal fuss.

While the wonders of backyard cooking were well known to mid-century dads, I’m sure it was mid-century moms who first attempted to contain the resulting mess of charred meat remnants and grease with foil. Apparently successful, foil cookery soon became a common sight on patios all across America. Harkening back to my own Scouting days in the late 1960’s, this type of cookery was considered an intermediate step between regular camp cooking using pots and pans, and primitive cookery using sticks and coals. Leave it to the miracles of science and technology (and moms) to bridge the gap!

Be prepared!
To create a portable meal in a pouch you first need aluminum foil (duh). The next step, however, will vary depending upon what heat source you are planning to use.

1. Double wrap your meal in foil if you are going to be cooking directly on coals. This way you’ll get extra thermal protection from the higher heat. Remember, If you’re going to use an outdoor wood fire, be sure to let it burn down sufficiently to create a nice even bed of burning embers.

2. If you plan to put them on the grill several inches over the coals, you only need to wrap it once.

Traditional Foil Meal
For each traditional foil meal or “Scout Supper”, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 1 thick hamburger patty seasoned to your taste (see note)
  • 1 potato, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

foil pouchPrepare the foil pouch per the instructions above. Spray the interior of the pouch (shiny side) with cooking spray. Layer the potatoes, carrots, seasoned meat patty, and onions in the center of the pouch. Season with salt and pepper then fold into a tightly sealed pouch (see illustration). Cook for about 15-20 minutes if you’re cooking directly over coals, or 30-45 minutes if you’re using the grate over your grill. Use your senses to help you determine when its done! When it’s ready, carefully take it off the fire, let cool for a minute, then cut open to form a foil “plate”.  Be careful of the steam when you open these, and I suggest you put the foil on a real plate lest you have molten food introducing itself to your crotch!

Hamburger in foil
cooked hamburger in foil

The hybrid meal shown above is an example of the diversity of this type of cookery. Note the squash and bell pepper along with the traditional beef patty, onion, and potatoes.

Note: Steamed meat inherently lacks the flavor that only direct fire can impart, therefore it’s my opinion that you need to add something to help out the meat. Almost anything will do, but I suggest steak sauce, or dried soup mixes worked thoroughly into the meat.

Non-Traditional Foil Meal
The preparation for this recipe is the same as above, except the sky is the limit! Almost any combination of meats and vegetables can be used to create a foil meal. Squash, bell pepper, sweet potato, ham, pineapple, you name it…It’s up to you! I’ll use the following as an example of a non-traditional foil meal.

Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary in Foil

  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 4-5 springs fresh rosemary (or 3-4 Tbs. of store bought)
  • about 1 cup of whole mushrooms
  • 1/2 bell pepper cut into rings
  • 3 thick slices of lemon

Prepare the foil pouch per the instructions above. Spray the interior of the pouch (shiny side) with cooking spray. Layer the fresh rosemary, chicken breast, mushrooms, bell pepper, and lemon in the pouch. Season with salt and pepper and fold to make a tightly sealed pouch. Cook for about 15-20 minutes if you’re cooking directly over coals, or 30-45 minutes if you’re using the grate over your grill. Remove and serve. Note that fresh rosemary tends to pack more of a wallop than its dried store bought cousins, so use accordingly.

chicken in foil

cooked chicken in foil

Don’t forget dessert!
For an extra treat give your foil a quick dose of cooking spray and wrap up firm, fresh apples and bake over the coals for about 30 minutes. Bananas are good too and only take about 10 minutes. Once you’re an experienced foil chef you can try the ultimate tiki dessert…a whole pineapple!

Before Leaving

If your foil cooking adventure took you into the great outdoors, be sure to thoroughly douse your fire (I mean cold to the touch), and pack out your trash. Remember your aluminum foil (and “beverage” cans) are recyclable! You might could even recoup some of your gas expenses depending on your drinking habits!

July 1, 2008 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

Puppet Franks: Protein on a String

While perusing my beloved 1956 Better Homes and Gardens Barbeque Book, I came across an overlooked recipe that might be of interest to the retro grilling enthusiast…Puppet Franks with Catsupdip (one word). That’s right, weenies on a string. Modern and convenient!

Puppet Franks

How does it work? Simple. Using a metal skewer, string “short chubby-type wieners” together using heavy duty string making sure to tie a knot between each frank to ensure that they don’t all fall off. Perhaps a good candidate for this would be a new type of frank I have just seen that is about the size of a bratwurst. Slash the franks on both sides. Once 6-10 franks are strung together in this manner, double them over a wire coat hanger making sure to loop the strings twice over the hanger to secure. Once your strings of franks are on the hanger you can lay them onto the grill allowing the hanger to dangle over the side. When one side is done just the way to like them, pick up the hanger and flip the whole thing over onto the uncooked side. Grill until done then dip the franks thoroughly in Catsupdip. It is suggested that the host serve guests by carrying the dripping hanger around and snipping off individual franks with scissors. Nothing could be more dramatic at an outdoor gathering than to play the role of the consummate protein puppet master plying his ancient art for an eager audience. Serve extra Catsupdip as needed.


  • 1/4 cup salad oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1-14 oz. bottle (1 1/4 cups) catsup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 to 2 tsp. Liquid Smoke (the elixir of the Patio)

Combine all ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Makes 3 cups or enough sauce for dunking about 2 dozen wieners. Be careful and don’t hurt yourself with this one kids.

June 23, 2008 at 8:11 am Leave a comment

Activate the Lounge-o-Lizer!


It’s time to get those summer patio parties underway, and Patio Culture can help. Need a classic retro cocktail recipe for your next gathering? Look no farther than our latest piece of space-age technology, the Lounge-o-Lizer! We’ve loaded authentic outer-directed cocktail recipe favorites that keep superfluous fruit to a minimum. More like Mad Men than Nouveau Tiki. Just visit The Patio page and push the launch button!

June 22, 2008 at 7:13 pm Leave a comment

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