The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner and …what did I make? Carnitas!

Warning: Chick Lit Review.

I have been a fan of Jennifer Weiner’s since I grabbed the book Good in Bed back in 2001. Jennifer lives and writes about Philadelphia and she worked hard to achieve her dream of becoming a professional writer. That is something I would be over the moon crazy-happy to have achieved. But I didn’t work hard at it. Jennifer Weiner did.

I am so lazy that working out for me consists of lifting a book or Kindle for personal pleasure and then writing about my reading experience. Oh, and I cook. But I won’t make my living writing that way.

I digress.

Her latest novel,The Next Best Thing, tells the story of a young girl (Ruth Saunders) who starts off her life with tragedy.

Ruth’s parents died in a car accident. One wintery evening they lost control, rolling the car and sending young Ruthie through the windshield. The glass cut her so badly she was in for one operation after another and left disfigured.

Her grandmother (who had been living in Florida) sold her home, her possessions and left her life behind to move to New England to care for her granddaughter. Every once in a while you get a glimpse of grandma’s loss and how she misses her only daughter…..but the primary focus is how much she loves and is devoted to her young granddaughter. She works tirelessly to keep Ruthie as happy as circumstances permit and gives emotional support, being the only parent Ruthie will know.

Some nights, exhausted and in pain, dopey with drugs, I would imagine that the glass of the TV screen would soften like taffy” This was the escape for little Ruthie as she watched the Golden Girls from her hospital bed. Her grandmother hardly ever leaving her side, she would escape to a world where she found comfort. Where no one stared at her scarred face or hurt her feelings, no pain.

In encouraging Ruthie to write in journals, to put her feelings to paper, she inspires her to be a writer. Well, I don’t think Ruthie knows that yet but – she realizes she is a gifted writer when she is invited to work on the high school paper and receives accolades over her witty off-the-cuff style. Lots of positive reinforcement there and she finally makes friends.

Fast forward past college and we are taken to Hollywood where she will try and get work as a scriptwriter. Naturally, her grandmother goes with her and is quite a character as she goes out and finds work before Ruth can, being an extra in television shows.

A glimpse into the Hollywood television industry was not surprising yet,I suppose, a bit disappointing to me. The interview with Cady, the star of Ruthie’s new show, was an eye opener. (Cady was meant to play the star of the show, Daphne, aspiring chef)

From page 181 of the hardback edition:

“So, I know you like to cook,” I said, having read, in numerous magazine profiles, of Cady’s love for whipping up the scrumptious Swedish cookies her mother and aunts had made.

She blinked at me. “What?” It turned out that the story of Cady in the kitchen, her love for baking, was just something her publicist told her to say —– “especially when I am being interviewed by Ladies Home Journal or whatever.” The recipes that ran with the story weren’t even her own, but were provided by the editors, or by what Cady referred to as “her people.”

I felt my heart sink. Daphne was an aspiring chef. It would have helped if Cady had actually known something about cooking.”

Ruthie was not the only one with a sinking heart. (Ok, I didn’t take it that hard)

Quite a bit of food is mentioned in this this book

When Ruthie was a child, stuck in the hospital for so many operations, the cafeteria sent up “grayish-brown meatloaf, gummy mashed potatoes, overcooked canned carrots and peas, all of it twirled in a blender and reduced to a paste.” BUT grandma saved her by bringing in her favorite things: macaroni and cheese, mashed by hand, matzoh-ball soup with the carrots and celery carefully strained out, corn cut off the cob, topped with a pat of salted butter and chopped up fine.

For Ruthie’s celebration dinner with the television executives: Roasted Pork loin with fennel, seared rib eyes with truffle butter, whole grilled branzino (served with Rielsling and Malbec) and the coffees and cordials, butter pound cake and salt-sprinkled-dark chocolate brownies.

A very positive scene was at Grandma’s wedding:
Carnitas dusted with cilantro and wedges of grilled pineapple, chicken enchiladas and sugared, cinnamon-dusted churros. On tables were pitchers of white sangria, with chunks of peaches and sliced grapes.

I had to go with the carnitas. Forgot to purchase pineapple so we didn’t have that but….the carnitas were fantastic. I will be making these again and probably be trying other variations of the recipe soon.

Recipe and more photos may be found at Squirrel Head Manor! I am placing this review on Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads.


4 thoughts on “The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner and …what did I make? Carnitas!

  1. Hi Janel: It’s not her best book, for sure, but there is food mentioned quite a few places. At present I am deep into George RR Martin’s Clash of Kings. Now there is a book with lots of food. Banquets of food mentioned various places 🙂


  2. your metion of the hospital meal brought back stomach churning memories of huge oktoberfest sausage and saurkraut served to newly nursing mothers. oh the poo babies with all that gas. Thankfully the mention of white sangria cleared that image.


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