Cooking The Books – Ebony McKenna

Chef with cookbookIt’s time for a bit of mayhem and delicious silliness. My guest this week is the effervescent Ebony McKenna, author of the fabulous Ondine novels. I don’t normally read YA but who could resist a boy who turns into a ferret, an exotic eastern European principality gloriously cobbled together from the worst excesses of Eurovision and footnotes! Here’s Ebony.

If it wasn’t for his love of sausages, Shambles the ferret wouldn’t be half as cheeky, or get in to half as much trouble in my Ondine novels.ebony_mckenna_portrait_imgP3993_435x606

When readers (and Ondine) first meet him in The Summer of Shambles, he’s face down in Brugelwürst sausage. Later, when he should be behaving himself in a huge crowd, he follows his nose to the delicious aroma of fried sausages and gets caught up in an assassination attempt.

The love of sausages fit Shambles’s personality so well, it drove his actions and shaped the plot. Which sounds marvellously planned out … if only it was! When I began writing the novel, I knew little about a ferret’s diet. I soon found out they can’t eat any carbohydrates or vegetable proteins, as it brings on mega-diabetes.

aufschnittWith a ferret as a romantic lead, I had the ultimate salad dodger on my hands and the fun never stopped. He made me smile every time he appeared on the page because he was always hungry and persuading people to feed him. I smiled even more when his horrid curse lifted for a wee bit and he could be handsomely Hamish again.

Food is always in my writing. In the 1980s, my mother and step-father took the crazy leap of running their own restaurant. (They were young, and didn’t do much research. If they’d known how much work it was going to be, they might not have done it.) So I grew up in a restaurant, trying lots of fun things and playing with my food.

And eating. Oh lordy did I eat. Living in a restaurant, we had the best produce available and the finest cuts of everything. So it stands to reason my favourite meal was fish and chips bought from the chippy across the street.cheese_balls

It wasn’t a huge leap of imagination on my part to put Ondine’s family in a pub–it was what I knew and loved, so it felt natural to me.

In book two, The Autumn Palace, we see how mean Duchess Kerala is, as evidenced by the way she limits the food servings. And she makes everyone take a dose of worming medicine because she’s convinced they eat too much.

In book three, The Winter of Magic, which will be released in December, food again plays a strong supporting role. Magic burns more calories than running a marathon, therefore witches using lots of magic are virtual eating machines. There is also a reference to fried cheese balls as a firm favourite in Brugel. They are a magnificent way to stay warm when you’re outside in the snow.

As I plot book four, The Spring Revolution, I can guarantee plenty of food. I might even find a way so sneak my all time favourite, the curried beef pie, into a scene.

ondine2_autumn_palace_UK_cover_250x384Ebony McKenna is the author of the Ondine series.ondine_uk_cover_250x384

Book 1 The Summer of Shambles and Book 2, The Autumn Palace, are available from

Here’s the link

Ebony McKenna

twitter –!/EbonyMcKenna

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22 comments on “Cooking The Books – Ebony McKenna

  1. Hi Ebony,
    Great blog. Ah fish and chips, you are talking my language there. It must have been interesting having a restaurant in the family, a lot of hard work according to my son who is a chef.
    It is amazing what you have done with Shanbles. Brilliant idea having a ferret for your hero.



  2. I’m with Shambles/Hamish — there’s nothing better than a good snag! Hilarious that you used to eat fish and chips instead of the gourmet meals from your family restaurant — although, I think I probably would have done the same!

  3. Gourmet meals on tap and you pick fish and chips from across the road – that’s hilarious. But of course, what kid wouldn’t. Those fried cheese balls are sounding very good! Very exciting that The Winter of Magic will be out in December!

  4. Thanks so much Margaret, Emmie and Jennifer.
    I’m going to make some fried cheese balls very soon, it’s getting so cold at night.

    Oh yes, to my mother’s dismay, one night my brother walked in the front door of the dining room with a fish and chip pack in his arms. The customers nearly choked on their smoked salmon in filo.

  5. Ohhhh, fried cheese balls. Right up my alley. Loved your blog Ebony. Am a big fan of yours from twitter as your tweets crack me up. Nothing wrong with the chippy. Staple diet of many a culture, including but not limited to students, mothers, mothers who work full time with students and working mothers that write. Oh, look. I fit into all those categories. More for me. Great blog! Well done to both you and Louise! xo

  6. Fish and chips are back on my menu, now the cooler weather is here. They’re great pub fare too. I wonder if shambles like fish? Perhaps he’d be more of a smoked salmon ferret. In filo sounds rather yummy. Was it served with chips or mash?

    • Hi Dora. Yes, now that everyone’s talking fish and chips I won’t be satisfied until I have some tonight. But I must say, they make terrific summer fare as well, especially eaten at the beach 🙂

  7. Great post, Ebony! Loved learning more about you and your familu.
    Many years ago my parents owned a general store in a small country town. Believe me when I say that over the years I cooked more than my fair share of fish and chips.
    After a long day over the cooker we would often cook fish and chips to feed our own hungry mob, so needless to say I’m not a big fan of that fare myself!

    • Hi Cheryl. I can quite understand that aversion. My mother grew up on a poultry farm and can’t stand the sight of chicken!

  8. What a fun post, Louise and Ebony! Nothing like hot chips to warm a body up in winter. I can remember saving my pennies (yes, pennies) to buy hot chips at the corner fish and chip shop after school. They came wrapped up in white paper with a layer of newspaper on the outside, and by the time I finished my share (amazing how many friends you have with a bundle of hot chips) my fingers would be covered in ink, grease and salt. Finger-licking delicious.
    Shambles sounds absolutely delightful, Ebony!

    • Hi Chris. It’s amazing how the combination of the humble potato and some hot fat can produce the sublime hot chip. I’m getting hungry now!

  9. Hahaha Dana, you’ve given me a big grin.
    But seriously, who needs an excuse to eat hot chips.
    We’re so lucky to have the potato. Mashed, roasted, boiled, fried … so versatile!

    Dora, I am sure Shambles would love fish if he had a chance. Deep fried would be his method of choice, but then he’d peel the batter off (too many carbs!). We used to serve the smoked salmon in filo with a dollop of sour cream and a light side salad to balance out the pastry. It was only an entree item, but it was a big favourite. Every now and then we’d get sick of making it and leave it off the menu, and the diners would almost cry that we didn’t have any – so we’d make up a fresh batch.

    Cheryl, with all that cooking, I bet you never felt like your hair was clean.

  10. Christine – oh yes! One of my primary schools had lunch orders with the local general store, and the top item was a bag of hot chips with lashings of salt and vinegar. One week I wrote my order out in the wrong way and they gave me a bag of crisps! I bawled my eyes out and the teachers quickly went to the store to fix up the problem.

  11. Hi Ebs,
    I do love your sense of humour 🙂 And as I read this blog, I was almost disappointed because there was no sign of a curry pie. But YAY there it is 🙂

    I LOVE Ondine 1,2 & 3. Yes lucky me has read the winter story and I must admit that I am very interested in trying out some of these fried cheese balls. Perhaps you could make a few batches for the MRWG? OK I will wait until Christmas if I have to.
    Louise, thanks for having Ebs as your special guest.

    • Hi Serena. Ebony did send me curry pie pics but I just couldn’t fit them in. But we all acknowledge her as the world expert on curry pies! Thanks for dropping in.

    • So true, Margaret. Anyone who hasn’t read an Ondine book is missing out on a real treat. Thanks for commenting!

  12. Hahah Serena, yes, you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ve read Ondine 3. Now that I’ve written about fried cheese balls, and found recipes, I’m pretty keen to try them out as well. (I really shouldn’t write about things I don’t know. I have to do more research!)

  13. Fried cheese balls? Oh, I so, so want to try those. Not sure my arteries would appreciate it though…

    Wonderful post, Ebony. Loved it. Shambles sounds utterly gorgeous. I’d definitely feed him sausage!

    • Cathryn, those cheese balls are taking me back to the 1980’s and making me reach for some cranberry relish. Anything gooey and cheesy and crisp on the outside can’t be a bad thing, surely?

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