Eating Well And Surviving The Holidays – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


Too much to do, not enough time– it seems to be a common lament this time of year. A 36-hour day would be nice, wouldn’t it? Those were my thoughts too, before IC. But having been diagnosed with IC for more than ten years has made me re-evaluate a lot of things. Today I don’t see a longer day (so I can get more done), as a realistic solution during the holidays. Running around at a hectic pace just makes my bladder hurt… and the more I do the worse it is. What I really need, I’ve come to realize, is a shorter and more leisurely day. But good luck with that in December. This month I envy the felines of the world– no holiday shopping frenzy, no nervous waits in long lines at stores and restrooms. Nope, cats are at home by the fireplace doing what they do best: cat-napping. I like their approach to the season– slow down, stay warm, take care of the body’s needs first. It’s something I have to remind myself of constantly, but I’ve found it really is key to surviving the holidays without a horrendous bladder flare.

One thing I want to avoid for sure this month is spending hours standing on my feet, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere. Shopping via the internet has been very helpful for keeping me off my feet. Yet there’s still the rush, the long list of things to do. I’ll still have some general holiday tension. It will stress my bladder, so I know I’ll need to stick to my diet and pamper my bladder as much as I can for most of the month of December. I like to plan ahead: I know I’ll probably be cheating on my diet around Christmas time and New Year’s Day… who can resist fudge? But my bladder can tolerate the cheating better If I’ve stuck to my diet scrupulously in the previous three weeks. Not easy to do, but worth the effort to be able to be a bit more flexible at Christmas.

That’s something a number of women in my local IC support group have noticed too. Getting away with a small amount of irritating food is more likely if one hasn’t been sneaking bits of irritating foods off and on in previous days and weeks. There seems to be something additive about the effect of these foods. I call it the “bucket principle”. An allergist put it this way: picture your body’s tolerance as a bucket that fills with water. It fills as you eat irritating foods, encounter things you are allergic to, become emotionally stressed and physically tired, do bladder-irritating activities, or forget to take your regular IC medications.

Eventually it spills over the brim and you have increased pain and urinary frequency. Then as you carefully monitor your diet, get plenty of rest, avoid irritating activities, and faithfully take medications that help you, the level in the bucket goes down. That, he explained to me, may be why we are better able to tolerate a particular food at one time than at another: when the bucket is nearly full it doesn’t take much to make it spill over.

So, being aware of the “bucket principle”, I know that for dinners most of this month I’ll want something quick to put together and bladder friendly to boot. That’s not an easy-to-find combination. The packaged and frozen meals I depended on in my pre-IC years are now pretty much out of the question. They have too many irritating flavor enhancers and preservatives. And fast food? Not an option this month. Fast food fare usually involves acidic pickles and tomatoes, tyramine-laden cheese, and/or “who-knows-whats-in-it” sauce. If I ditch the cheese, pickles, sauce, and tomatoes, I’m left with a plain dry bun (which may or may not have bladder-irritating preservatives) and a slab of mystery meat (which may or may not contain bladder irritating fermented soy products).

So, what can I make from scratch, quick? Well, if I plan ahead in the morning or early afternoon, and have 20 minutes to spare, I can put together the ingredients for a mild but tasty beef soup. I put it in my crock pot slow-cooker, then head out the door, knowing that a hot and delicious dinner is waiting when I get home. A slow cooker is a great piece of kitchen equipment for the harried IC cook!

Here is a very versatile recipe in that it can be soup or stew depending on how much thickening and water you use. You can also add leftover vegetables if you’re trying to clean out the fridge. And it’s a hearty meal when paired with french bread. Another of the wonderful things about this recipe is what it doesn’t have: common soup/stew ingredients that may be problematic for IC bladders. It has no onions or paprika for instance. It also omits some typical beef soup ingredients that cause flare-ups of vulvar pain for those of us with vulvodynia: celery, parsley, and black pepper.

Slow-cooked Beef Soup

– Serves: 4

  • 1 lb. beef stew meat, cut in bite sized chunks
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 14-oz can beef broth (see note below)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-1/2 cups baby carrots, cut in half
  • 2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbsp. flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot
  • 1 tsp. Brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. orange extract (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. In a brown paper bag or plastic food storage bag, shake beef chunks with the 2 tablespoons of flour to coat. In a large skillet, brown the beef in olive oil. Remove beef to the slow cooker. Add beef broth and 1 cup of water to the hot skillet, scraping up the browned bits. Pour into the slow cooker. Add carrots, potatoes, peas, garlic, and bay leaf to the slow cooker.
  2. In a small bowl or a cup combine the tablespoon of flour, the brown sugar, salt, allspice and ground cardamom. Gradually stir in the cold water and orange extract to make a smooth mixture. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Put the lid on and cook until meat is tender, usually about four hours if set on high. (Time may vary. Check the instructions for your slow-cooker and use the time recommended for soups or stews.)

Notes: The kind of beef broth you use is very important– it needs to be free of monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is a common ingredient of most beef bouillon cubes and canned beef broth. Health Valley makes an excellent fat-free canned beef broth that is also free of both added crystalline MSG and MSG that is contained in such things as soy protein isolate. The only drawback to the brand is that it contains a smidgen of white pepper. White pepper is milder than black pepper and the tiny amount in this soup is generally not a problem for most IC bladders. Those with oxalate sensitive vulvodynia may want to check it out carefully though.

Also, you don’t have to use a slow cooker. You can speed things up by bringing it to a boil, then letting the soup simmer on the stove for about an hour and a half to two hours.