Come Follow Me!

4-9-15 Engine 734I have great news to share!  Florida Behind the Scenes is moving to a self-hosted site!  If you are following me now, I will try to take you with me, but just in case, go to the new site and sign up so you never miss a post.  Thank you all, my dear readers, for your support.

The new site is ready to read, although I am still working on some formatting issues and small tweaks.  My old posts may have lost some formatting, but I am working my way through them to get them all prettied up again!

A Bed of Roses

IMGP8565Everyone in Gainesville should be growing gardens full of roses!  They grow here like nowhere else I have ever seen, as evidenced by the fact that I have many, many rose bushes blooming, yet I have managed to kill all my mint.  Even my black thumb cannot kill these beauties that grow with abandon.

IMGP8571Granted, I have never done a single thing to them, other than enjoy and photograph them, and in the back, I have pulled vines that threatened to strangle them.  My husband sometimes decides that my crazily growing rose, one of the ones I actually selected and organized the planting of, needs to be pruned and cuts off much of the bush.  It then grows back, bigger and crazier than ever.  This one blooms almost all year, so he has to time his ministrations carefully.

IMGP8556TIMGP8575he smaller, paler pink one is also one that I chose.  This one came from WalMart, I believe, from the clearance section.  It grows well, although not with complete abandon, and doesn’t bloom as often as the larger one.  Since being planted, the only thing it has needed has been removing Spanish moss from its branches.  It was small when we first got it, as is typical from a garden center, but now it’s about 4′ tall and bushy.  The blooms are gorgeously striated with nearly white and darker pink, and the layers and layers of petals make it lush.  While I love the wildly blooming bright pink rose, the delicacy of coloring on this one tugs at my heart in a special way that the brighter pink just can’t complete with.

It is lovely that I have the two of them, though, and that they fill me with cheer each time I pull into the driveway.   It was my husband’s idea to put the roses there, at the end of the drive, below a maple tree, and I am always glad that he came up with that idea.

This classically elegant rose blooms least of all.  This is the kind of rose you see in a florist’s shop, but it smells divine.  Of all my driveway roses, this is the best smelling. It was another WalMart rose, bought in the clearance section, planted and nearly forgotten.  We ignored it for years after planting, and we thought that this one had died when it was choked with Spanish moss and weeds a year or two ago. My husband tended to it and removed the weeds, and it came back more beautiful than ever.  It is a long, leggy rose that probably could benefit from some selective pruning, but I will leave that up to my husband.  I’d much rather not test my black thumb on this beautiful flower!  If I were the type to bring my flowers indoors, this would be the one to clip for a bud vase.

IMGP8552It amazes me how well my roses grow.  There don’t seem to be many aphids or other destructive insects for roses around here.  Yet for some reason, there are not rose gardens all over town.  I am imploring you, citizens of Gainesville, put your yards to good use and grow some roses!

Walkin’ to the Railroad

4-9-15 rose 4-9-15 orange 4-9-15 yellowI set out to take pictures of the train tracks by my house, but I got sidetracked by the flowers even before I left my own yard.  My red roses out back are blooming beautifully.  Wild coral flowers that I think are a type of primrose grow along the side of the road.  I have seen them in white and yellow as well.  This cheerful yellow flower is dandelionesque, but is not an actual dandelion.  It is cheerful and pretty, though.

4-9-15 whiteThese little white flowers were almost hidden by foliage, but peeped out just enough to catch my eye.  They look perfectly like the kind of flowers a child might draw!

4-9-15 PalmsMost people think of palm trees as growing near beaches at the ocean, but here in inland Florida, they are scattered randomly around the landscape.  They pop up next to forests and in the middle of fields.

4-9-15 daisies & blues4-9-15 bluePurple and white flowers bloom in abundance along the road and the railway.

4-9-15 cattails 4-9-15 Cattails by RailroadCattails also grow in the swampy soil of Gainesville, especially along the irrigation ditches that line the roads.

4-9-15 Engine 734I did make it all the way to the tracks, where Engine 734 was waiting for its signal to move on in to the gravel yard down the road.




Easter Birthday Nowruz Dinner

Last month, Raw Spice Bar sent me a package to review on my other blog, Subscription Box Blues.  The packaging and recipes they include were absolutely wonderful, and at only $6 a month, a great way to tour the world through food.  The recipes were geared toward the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which is in late March.  Since it is definitely a celebration meal, I wanted to make it for a special celebration, and since my daughter loves lamb and Easter was her birthday this year, I chose to make them all on Sunday and share the results with you, my dear reader.  Remember that this was my first attempt at making any kind of Persian food, and that some of the techniques were completely new to me.

yogurt and stuff 3-15Mast-O-Khiar With Rose and Mint

This is a yogurt sauce, similar to Greek tzatziki sauce, but with different herbs that include rose petals.

cukes cubed 3-15Dice up a couple of cucumbers into 1/4″ cubes.  I chose hothouse cucumbers because they looked much better than the ordinary ones and were no more expensive.  For tzatziki, you would usually shred them, but this recipe called for diced cucumbers.  It is definitely easier to cut lengthwise, then widthwise rather than the other way around!

yogurt et al 3-15Next, crush garlic and sea salt into a paste.  The recipe said to do this with the side of a knife, but a mortar and pestle makes much quicker work of it.  You can do this whichever way you prefer.

Mix your yogurt with the garlic paste, and refrigerate each separately until just before you serve it.  This is to keep the sauce from getting watery, but you could mix it ahead of time and either mix in the water or pour it off.  I still have leftovers in the refrigerator that really are as thick as they were on Sunday.

The walnuts and raisins are also to be added at the last moment, but are optional.  I only used these for a small bit of the whole, because not everyone likes nuts.  Toasting the walnuts makes them much more flavorful, but I didn’t take pictures of that part.

Lamb et al 3-15Braised Lamb Shanks & Advieh

My kids love lamb.  It’s not my favorite, mostly because if you don’t do it well, it’s not very good.  These are meant to be braised until they fall off the bone,  Advieh is the spice mixture, which smells delicious and exotic.

chopped onions 3-15Dice a couple of large onions.  I diced mine smaller than I like for a braise because the birthday girl hates onion pieces, although she likes the flavor.

garlicCrush some garlic with the side of your knife.  This doesn’t have to be ground into a paste, or even diced, just crushed to release the flavor.

Turn the oven on to 300 degrees

browning 3-15Put a little oil in a large skillet and brown the lamb shanks on all sides.  I had some trouble with the recipe for this, because it said to use 6 lamb shanks to feed 8-10 people, but it didn’t give any idea how big the lamb shanks should be.  I think the ones I got were much bigger than they needed to be, because we are still working on them, and there were seven big eaters at our table.

Makeshift dutch overn 3-15Once the lamb shanks are browned, remove them to a large dutch oven.  My dutch oven is nowhere near big enough, so I did a makeshift one using my largest oven-safe glass bowl, which I covered tightly with several layers of aluminum foil.

onions sauteeing  3-15Add more oil to the skillet, then toss in the onions and cook until translucent.  Best smell in the world!

Toss the crushed garlic in there and give it a minute or two.  With garlic, it’s usually better not to let it touch the bottom too much, because it can burn and get bitter easily.

Next, add in the advieh.  Delicious cumin and cinnamon are the main notes I smelled.

A little orange juice, and rosewater are added next.  This was my first time cooking with rosewater, and it was interesting.  The smell is much stronger than I expected, given that it is competing with onions and garlic.

Pour that and some water over the lamb shanks, cover them tightly, and put them in the oven for about 3 hours, turning once, about 2 hours in.  Three hours was not really enough for my big shanks to fall off the bone.

shabzi polow 3-15Sabzi Polow with Dill & Saffron

This is a rice dish that is cooked to develop a tahdig, or crust.  The recipe calls for fava beans, but my husband hates them (I’ve never had them), so I substituted green peas.  The peas were not really quite successful, and I think it would be better with nothing.

chopping dill 3-15Chop lots of dill.

dill mess 3-15Dill makes a mess when you chop it.  Do not do this on the white tablecloth you hope to eat dinner on later.

garlic cloves 3-15Crush your garlic with the side of a knife.

My camera remote died somewhere around here, and I was starting to panic that I would never get dinner on the table because cooking while photographing takes twice as long, and cooking something you are totally unfamiliar with takes even longer.  I hope you can follow without pictures from here on out.

Rinse your rice, over and over and over again.  It is important to use basmati rice, because regular rice is a completely different texture.  Boil the rice in lots of water, then drain it.

Line a large pot, about 8-10 inches wide, with parchment paper, then melt butter with olive oil and a little water over the parchment paper.

Make saffron water with boiling water and saffron.  Once that has steeped, mix it with some of the rice and yogurt, then put that into the skillet, smoothing it out.

Mix the remaining rice in a very large bowl with the dill and peas (or beans, or nothing).  Mound the rice on top of the yogurted rice, wrap the lid with a kitchen towel, then cover the whole thing up.  Make sure your kitchen towel is not hanging down near the burner.  Turn the heat up for a couple of minutes, until steam puffs out, then turn it down to low and let it simmer for 70 minutes.

Dinner 3-15Once the rice is done, put it the whole thing in a pan of cold water for a minute or two before removing the cover.  When it is ready, loosen around the edges, invert a serving platter over it, and flip it over.  My Sabzi Polow was rather loose, and it probably would have worked better to have a platter with at least a bit of a bowl shape to it, but all I had that was large enough was a cutting board.

Dinner 4-15My family wouldn’t wait around for me to get really good photos of everything, but I managed a couple of them anyway.  This was an enormous amount of food, and I would halve the recipes next time.

To see more about Raw Spice Bar on my blog, click here.  To subscribe, click here.  The recipes in full are here.

Bzzy, Bzzy, Bzzy

IMGP7918Spring is here and the time is right for bees to pollinate!  While we definitely need bees to pollinate out fruit crops, they aren’t really picky about where they gather their honey.  This bumblebee is collecting pollen from what most of us consider weeds.

IMGP7931This honeybee is collecting from the same flowers.  All bees make honey, but the honeybee makes a lot more than the bumblebee does.  Honeybees are much smaller and slimmer than bumblebees, and more prone to stinging.  You have to be pretty aggressive toward a bumblebee to get it to sting you.

IMGP7965Did you know that clover honey is one of the most widely available commercial honeys?  It’s a fairly light honey that doesn’t crystallize quickly, so it looks pretty on the shelves.  The bees love clover, so in areas where there are fields of it, it’s pretty easy to harvest.

Tom Is Not Amused

IMGP7623IMGP7629Tom-the-Cat likes to escape to the jungle out back whenever he can to go skulking around, exploring on his own.  He takes this time very seriously, and does not like to have it interrupted by photographers hunting HIM.

IMGP7632His eyes glow green in the outside world, especially when he is inflamed with annoyance.  To suffer the indignity of a human watching him is more than he can bear.

IMGP7635He does his best to ignore those who would interfere, and watches potential prey intently.  That butterfly hovering just beyond the frame must die!  Death to all butterflies!

IMGP7641With a pointed glare, he takes a seat on the guard rail at the shed, ears and tail twitching.  One step closer and he will disappear.


IMGP7608There is a restlessness on the wind these days, the kind that whispers insistently in your ear that you it is time to move on.  This is the weather that took Mary Poppins aways from the Banks’ home, when the air itself is so unsettled that you can’t sit still.  When the weather is like this, I long to be Marco Polo, sailing the seas to anywhere, or a hobo jumping a train to be anywhere but here.

Through My Daughter’s Eye


My daughter was obviously born to the water, and cannot stand the idea of being far from it.  When she asked to take the photos today, I should have known that they would be water based.


Nearly every photo was of Hoggetowne Creek, which we walked along today.  As we went through the photos to use tonight, she asked me to use the one with more water in it every single time.

IMGP7429 IMGP7440 IMGP7436


While we were looking through the photos, she was bothered that in most of them the creek reflects the green of the trees too much.  In reality, it did not look very green, but a muddy grey-brown from the sediment stirred up by some wild storms earlier.

IMGP7450 IMGP7420 IMGP7483 IMGP7453The wide-angle lens was her lens of choice, which turned out to be a great way to capture the beauty of the woods.

IMGP7473 IMGP7412 IMGP7411There is no denying that the creek is photogenic, but so are the newly-leaved trees, forming a natural cathedral to awe those lucky enough to wander through.

By Another Trail

IMGP7286Springtime’s here and the trails are calling!  There is nothing better than getting out and doing something when the weather is mild and the humidity is low.

IMGP7287 IMGP7257When most people think of Florida, they think of beaches, but the landscape is much more than that.  Away from the beaches and the tourists, there are trees and vines and a wilderness so dense that even civilization cannot tame it.

IMGP7275 IMGP7218Pockets of jungle are found all over Gainesville, carefully protected, even though they butt right up to houses and busy roads.  I love finding them all over the place, some official parks, some just areas in between.  The ones in between are often the most fun, carved out by those who seek adventure at home.

IMGP7236 IMGP7213 IMGP7248 IMGP7245Whether this is an official park or not, I have never been sure, but it is a trail used by bikers who fly over the roots and across the many rickety bridges.  The bridges change frequently, moved as the creek bed changes, broken, new ones added.  It makes it a little more of an adventure.

IMGP7252It never ceases to amaze me that in a place as hot as Florida, the flower that symbolizes Ireland grows with abandon.  Such pretty flowers!

IMGP7292 IMGP7189 IMGP7184 IMGP7183Small treasures along the path make a walk even more cheerful.  These flowers may make my sinuses ache, but they make my heart sing!


Spring Beauties

IMGP7176There is no doubt that spring is here in Gainesville, although it seems to have passed so many by.  The cheerful bright pink rose that grows wild at the end of my driveway is putting out new growth, with bright red leaves, but no blooms just yet.  Meanwhile, its neighbor, a smaller pink rose, is blooming with abandon.  Many of my roses bloom for much of the year, but this one is not as prolific.  It blushes with its own beauty, a frilly puff of magic.

IMGP7184The bees are busy collecting pollen to make honey for me.  While this mock orange won’t produce any fruit from the bees’ busy work, the real oranges need them to help pollinate the fruits we’ll enjoy over the winter and into next spring.