As many of you may know, our beloved sister hostess SHARON DONOVAN, tragically passed away on 11th April 2012. We who knew her, loved her, and were inspired by her courage and determination to face head on whatever life threw at her. When she could no longer see to paint she turned to writing and showed her amazing talent in the Inspirational Romance and Romantic Suspense genres, and her story 'Charade Of Hearts' was awarded the coveted Predators and Editors Award in January 2011.

This Blog was a source of great delight to her, she was one of the founder hostesses and she contributed to the fun and silliness in her own original way, and was kind enough to let her unique creation, the hunky butler 'Oliver' join us for our Friday romp and prepare 'virtual breakfast' for the guests on the following morning. It's beyond hard to have to go on without her, but we know that she would have been the first to insist that 'the show must go on.' She is, and will always be with us in spirit.
Sharon, dear friend, we will never forget you.
The Author Roast and Toast is part of the legacy you left us. Let's raise a Toast to you as well as all our guests.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Alison McMahan's Renaissance Roast for The Saffron Crocus

The hostess pile into the gondola. With Oliver acting as the gondolier, they travel along the Grand Canal in Venice to their destination.

Lilly eyes Oliver's strong back as he drags a long pole through the water. “Who knew Oliver could steer a gondola?”

Lyn tosses her head and laughs, “Oh Lilly, don’t you know by now, Oliver is a man of many talents.”

Mary snickers. “I’d like to know more about some of his less public talents.”

Mac slaps Mary's shoulder. “Behave yourself, Mary. You promised not to be too naughty today.”

LaVerne smiles and smooths down the skirt of her lovely Renaissance-style dress. “I just love the fashions. Heavy and cumbersome, but oh so lovely. And I don’t have to worry about my fair skin under all these layers of rich fabric.”

“Better hope you don’t fall overboard,” Lilly says with a smirk. “You’d surely drown and there’s no way any of us could save you.”

“Oliver could.” Mary waggles her brows.“Of course, he’d have to divest himself of his clothing first.”

The hostess laugh, but the chortles turn to appreciative sighs as the gondola rounds a turn in the canal and they gaze down an alley.

"At least there are some places we can go on foot," Mac says. "I don't think I could travel all day in this little boat without getting claustrophobic."

"There are lovely patches of dry land throughout the city," Lyn says as Oliver steers the gondola toward a sidewalk..

Mac looks upward and gasps. "The architecture is gorgeous."

Once Oliver docks the boat, he helps the hostesses ashore.

“I thought this was going to be a Venetian carnival,” Lilly says as they enter a small garden sandwiched between two buildings. Tents and canopies stretch across the small swatch of land and grapevines provide an illusion of privacy in the crowded city. "The atmosphere is festive but elegant. No wonder you wouldn't let me wear my jester costume.”

“I told you, Lilly, this Renaissance Faire is no carnival. But there will still be music and dancing and lots of food.” Lyn smiles as she looks around. “And after the sun sets, we’re all heading inside the opera house next door for a special performance from Isabella, the heroine from Alison McMahan’s The Saffron Crocus.”

“I hear she sings like an angel,” Mary sighs.

“I hear the wine is good,” Lilly counters. "And there are giant carafes filled with it!"

"There's coffee too," LaVerne adds. "Just look at that huge copper coffee pot. I didn't even know they had coffee in 17th Century Venice."

Mac nods. “Oh yes. According to Alison, coffee, or cavee, as it was called, was the new drug of choice in those days.”

“I love coffee,” Lilly says with a sigh.

“You love wine too,” Mary quips.

"And food. I love food. Just look at the spread--roasted pork, ham, and oysters. Yum!"

Mac smacks her lips. "That lemon saffron cake looks good too."

"Everything looks delicious," LaVerne says as her tummy rumbles.

“Ah, here’s Alison now,” Lyn says as the hostess move toward the festivities. “And she has Isabella and Rafaele with her.”

“Rafaele is yummy,” Mary says.”

Mac laughs. “You think all of the heroes on the Roast are yummy.”

“Don’t you?”


Oliver and the hostess gather at the edge of the garden and move forward to meet their guests.

"Welcome to your Roast," Lyn says with a smile. "Let the celebration begin!"

(This week's introductory 'skit' was written by Lilly.)

Alison McMahan chased footage for her documentaries through jungles in Honduras and Cambodia, favelas in Brazil and racetracks in the U.S. She brings the same sense of adventure to her award-winning books of mystery and romantic adventure for teens and adults.

She loves hearing from readers.





the book is available on Kobo:

and Smashwords:

Barne and Noble:

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

 Website for the book: www.TheSaffronCrocus.com


Venice, 1643. It's all about the music. Isabella, fifteen, longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. And now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele.

Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business?

Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans?

Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita's past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto?

Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus fast, before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.

She was a lady and ill-prepared for this kind of trouble…

“Rafaele!” She flew into the garret. “Piero, it was so wonderful, wait until I tell you!”

The stool next to the bed was knocked over. The tray with the genepy bottle was on the floor, one of the cups broken. The fat candle that had been burning next to Rafaele’s bed had been flung to the other side of the room.. Canvases were strewn all over the floor, some of them slashed, and many of Master Strozzi’s jars of paint elements were broken.

Did Piero and Rafaele have a fight? She quickly suppressed the thought. Who would get into a fight with a man who was already injured?

Something else must have happened.

She walked across the garret. “Piero? Rafaele, are you here?”

Rafaele was not in the bed. The sheets and blankets she had piled on top of him were strewn everywher. Blood-stained sheets spilled over the edge of the pallet. There was a pile of clothes on the floor.

She walked around to get a closer look.

Not clothes. It was Piero. Face down, one arm over his face, as if to defend himself.

A puddle of blood under him.


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  1. What a great little trip through Venetian water lanes! And you ladies look so lovely!
    Here is Isabella:

  2. Isabella isn't a little wallflower at all is she? Beautiful but no pushover. No wonder Rafaele loves her. This is going to be a fun roast! Hope the food is to your liking Alison!

  3. Here's a little meal Isabella and Rafaele share in the book. Rafele needs some convincing to eat, as his mother has just been murdered:
    “But look.” She took a plate and picked up a slice of ham with a fork. “There’s ham,” she said, dropping the slice onto a plate, “and lovely purple figs.” She put two of those on a plate. “And hard cheese, and olive oil for dipping bread, the rice with peas, and marinated sardines and—ooh–bottles of wine.”

    1. *Drools*

      Oh, Alison - this is my kind of feast! Yummy!

  4. Good mornin', chickies! Welcome to your roast, Alison. Love the excerpt, then again, a mysterious romance is hard to resist. ;-)

  5. Good morning sister hostesses *waves to Lilly and Mac* And welcome to your roast, Alison, what a fantastic excerpt and I love the snippet with Fafele and Isabella!

  6. Hello dear ladies and gents. I never promised to behave myself. If I did I had my fingers crossed. Pass the cheese please.
    welcome to your roast Allison that excerpt just hit the sweet spot!!!

  7. What a lovely party! The gondola ride looks really fun :) I can't wait to read the book - congratulations, Alison!! Thank you fabulous hostesses!

  8. Hiya Tracy. Doesn't this story sound great?

  9. Hi Traci, welcome to Allison's party.

    Oh, I just caught a glimpse of Isabella, doesn't she look stunning in that gorgeous ruby coloured gown!

  10. Classy looking novel and author. I’m looking forward to reading this great story.

  11. Hi Traci and Chris, nice to see you here today. Chris we could have a blast with one of your books to roast!!! Allison is a class act for sure!

  12. Hello everyone. The party lasts well into the morning so don't be shy about overindulging in the yummy food or beverages. Tis the season!

  13. Thank you for the warm welcome, everyone!
    Here is the recipe for the Flourless Orange-Saffron Cake shown in the picture in the blog. Since I think it's about tea time, right?

    Flourless Orange-Saffron Cake
    Serious Eats

    6 Eggs, large

    1/4 cup Honey
    Baking & Spices

    1 tsp Baking powder
    1 1/8 cup Granulated sugar
    1/2 tsp Saffron threads
    1 tsp Vanilla extract

  14. Here's another dessert recipe Isabella and Rafaele might have shared: Poached Pears in Saffron
    Poached Pears with Cardamom and Saffron
    Vegetarian • Gluten free • Serves 4
    Bon Appétit

    4 Pears, firm

    1 1/2 tbsp Lemon juice, fresh
    Baking & Spices

    1/2 tbsp Cardamom pods
    1 Pinch Kosher salt
    1/4 tsp Saffron threads
    3/4 cup Sugar

    1 6-ounce container Creme fraiche
    Beer, Wine & Liquor

    2 cups White wine, dry

  15. Yum, Saffron Cake and poached pears. I'm looking forward to reading your book, Alison. Good luck with all the book launch craziness!

  16. That cake sounds right up my alley. Yummmmm. Oliver, could you whip us up a big one we can share!?

  17. Are you trying to be naughty again, Mary? lol!

  18. While Rafaele, the roguish young man Isabella loves, is on trial, Domenico tries to win her over by taking her out to eat. Here's the scene:

    He led her to a banquet hall where he had secured a private dining room. Her aunt was there, propped up with pillows, her eyes closed. There was already food and a sweet wine on the table.
    Isabella sat on the bench next to her aunt and put her arms around her. “Could you ask for some cavee?”
    “How do you know what cavee is?”
    “It will help my aunt. Please.”
    Domenico signaled for a waiter.
    When the cavee arrived, Isabella served all three of them, as she had seen the tavern maid do it the day of the storm.
    She was pleased to see that after her first grimace, her aunt drank it willingly enough and seemed to brighten a little.
    Isabella tried to coax her to eat, but none of them had any appetite. Isabella stared at the untouched food. She wondered what they were feeding Rafaele in prison. He had grown so thin after just a few days. Were they feed-ing him at all?
    Domenico set down his empty cup. “I better take you back to the Lido.”
    “Giovanni is waiting for us.”
    “You don’t realize how late it is. I sent him home hours ago. I told him I would take care of you. Both of you.”
    With his eyes he indicated her aunt, who had closed her eyes again.
    There were many things Isabella wanted to say to Domenico. That he had no right to tell her gondolier when to come and when to go. That he was taking charge of too many things. But for now she had to content her-self with a simple “Thank you.”

  19. Here's a recipe for Chicken made with Saffron - it's been described as "so good, it could bring peace to the Middle East." I imagine this is one of the dishes on the table in the scene above.

    1 lb Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges 2/3 inch /1.5 cm thick
    3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, or 1 medium whole chicken, quartered
    12 banana or other large shallots, halved lengthwise
    12 large cloves garlic, sliced
    1 medium lemon, halved lengthwise and then very thinly sliced
    1 tsp saffron threads
    3 1/2 tbsp olive oil
    2/3 cup cold water
    1 tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
    1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
    1 cup tarragon leaves, chopped
    2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and add half the lemon juice. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.

    Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients, excluding the remaining lemon juice and half of the tarragon, in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight, or for at least 2 hours.

    Preheat the oven to 475°F. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, in the center of a roasting pan and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for a further 15 minutes. At this point, the chicken should be completely cooked. Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste, and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.

    you can see a picture of it here:

  20. Ooh these recipes sound absolutely delicious Alison, thanks so much for sharing.

    *Waves to Chris and Judith* welcome to the party, the food is nearly as good as in Alison's book!

    Great excerpt by the way, Alison, I really want to read this, although futuristic is my genre, I love historicals!

  21. Well, in case anyone is ready for coffee.... here is the scene where Rafaele introduces Isabella to cavee, or coffee, considered a racy "drug" at the time, sort of like teens smoking cigarettes in the 50s...

    She dropped down into the chair across from him, still trying to control her shivering. She stretched her hands toward the candle in the middle of the table, as if it could warm her.
    “Bring us some cavee,” Rafaele said to the tavern maid. He put a coin on the table. The woman took the coin and went to the back.
    “Cavee will warm you up.”
    A few moments later the woman returned with a tea-pot of Moorish make. It was copper, with a brass handle and a knob on top for pulling up the lid.
    Isabella examined it curiously. “Look at the streaks down the side. Strange tavern, that lets their tea boil over.”
    “It’s not tea.”
    The tavern maid set down plain white ceramic cups with gold leaf around the lip. She filled them with a steaming hot, dark liquid from the streaked pot. Isabella picked up a cup and sniffed it.
    He waved at the tarnished sugar bowl. “You might want to sweeten it.”
    He sipped his without sugar. The liquid was bitter but rich, with a flavor like wood. There was a spicy after-taste that matched its aroma.
    Isabella imitated him and sipped. It was too hot for her and she coughed.
    “Try the sugar.” Rafaele tried to repress his smile. This was fun, to show her new things, and it was good to have fun with her and forget everything else.
    Isabella smiled back at him, put two small spoons of sugar into her cup, and took a big sip. “You are right, it tastes much better now. It warms like wine. And yet, not like wine.”
    “Cavee wakes you up. You are ready to face any-thing,” Rafaele said. “It’s what we need on a night like this.”
    “I have to tell you something, Rafaele,” Isabella leaned forward. “Promise you won’t get angry at me until you hear everything I have to say.”
    Rafaele’s smile faded. “What?”
    “That body we dropped into the lagoon. That was not your mother’s body.”

  22. Ohhh! that was not your mother's body. You got me.
    I don't think I have ever tasted saffron. It's expensive I saw, but never knew what to do with it. Besides that yellow rice stuff. They used it for everything!
    Of course, Lilly, I am always naughty. And proud of it, most of the time.

  23. You're right there Mary, sweetie, you are always naughty - but nice!

    Another fantastic excerpt Alison - and I love that the reader is learning these fascinating historical facts along with enjoying what sounds like a great story.

  24. I am so looking forward to this story. Off I go looking for the hot guys. I'll share if you want me to. I mean if I have to...

  25. Ooooo yummy sounding recipes, Alison. Now, which one of the hostesses is going to make them for me? :-)

  26. I get my husband to cook all the recipes. We have to try them before I put them in books. We haven't tried these yet though. He recently became president of our condo building so he has more to do and cook me fancy stuff anymore...

  27. OK, now that we've eaten and had our coffee, it's time for a little music. Here's a scene where Rafaele hears Isabella sing for the first time:

    s soon as Isabella sang the soaring note of the first word, “Oh,” then continued with “how gentle you are,” Rafaele recognized the duet. It was one of his mother’s favorites, “O Come Sei Gentile.” A man sings the words to a little bird that belongs to his beloved, and the bird sings back. His mother and Isabella smiled at each other as they sang. They almost looked like mother and daughter.
    The lute player, that fop Domenico, smiled warmly at Isabella while he played. Rafaele felt a flush of nostal-gia. In the time he’d been at sea on his mother’s merchant ships, he hadn’t done any singing himself. Maybe Signor Monteverdi would let him sing in the choir again while he was in Venice.
    His mother’s voice joined Isabella’s. The two of them mimicked the sound of the little bird singing its heart out, making lightning-quick embellishments with their throats, perfectly in time with each other and in tune with Domenico’s lute. The lover compared himself to the little bird, envying its closeness to his beloved.
    How close was Isabella to his mother?
    The harmony between his mother’s voice and Isabel-la’s washed over him. The sweetness of Isabella’s voice warmed and calmed him at the same time. The music connected him with something greater than himself, something beyond this world.
    The song ended on the long, sad notes of the lover’s lament.
    Isabella closed her eyes and stood there, not moving.
    The silence in the room was absolute. It was the si-lence every singer so longs to hear, the full silence of an audience who has been deeply moved. And then, the loud calls of “Bravo!” and the wonderful explosion of ap-plause. He felt a flush of pride. His mother had done a good job of training Isabella. He stood up and clapped too, for both of them, singer and teacher.
    People in front of him stood up for the ovation, blocking his view. Rafaele moved around them until he could see Domenico bow to Margherita, then take Isabel-la’s hand and raise it, leading to a renewal of applause. Isabella smiled at him and curtsied to him and then to the audience, still holding Domenico’s hand. Rafaele curled his lip into a sneer. The fop had dressed to match Isabella and his mother. He had to dress up, because he wasn’t that good of a musician, his lute-playing no match for their voices.
    For a moment Rafaele imagined himself up there, wishing it was he who had sung with them.

  28. These recipes look amazing, Alison! A husband that cooks fancy! Hold onto that one, lol.

    I adore your character's names. Where did you come up with them? So fitting for the time.

  29. Isabella is named after my sister, Elizabeth, to whom the book is dedicated. But all names had be authentic 17th C Italian. I looked in places like this:


  30. That's fascinating, Alison, and what an interesting site. And lovely to dedicate it to your sister and name Isabella after her!

  31. Thanks, Hywela. The only problem is I have a daughter, and nine more siblings. Now they all want lead characters in my novels named after them. And some of them have names that won't work too well in a historical. I'm going to have to be very, very creative. And very, very productive....


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