The road ends, but the journey continues...

COVID Clench, Pandemic Hair and Cardamom Braids

In my fantasies of what I’d do first once I was fully vaxxed, getting a haircut was the primo #1 Big Thing.

I’d been gearing up for the Big Leap into an enclosed, hair salon experience during the 2 weeks-after-my-second-jab clearance and figured it’d cross off two ToDos at the same time.

#1 – Getting that haircut!
#2 – Re-entering the world at large in a calculated and precise manner.

However, my teeth had other ideas.

Over the course of those 2 weeks, jaw pain, migraines, searing earaches, and weird teeth nerves asserted themselves to the point of my having to call the dentist for an appointment. Considering my last checkup/cleaning was in 2018, and we’ve since dropped dental insurance, I was a bit miffed.

Long story short, I passed my exam with flying colors. In fact, the dreaded cleaning itself was deftly performed by the dental hygienist with narey a wince on my part. Strange to say, but I had a fantastic experience.

So, what was the source of the pain? If not a rotting tooth, then what?
Something dentists are seeing a lot of lately – teething grinding (or technically, bruxism).

Aha. Makes sense. Only I’m calling it “COVID clench“.

The day after my dental needs upstaged that longed-for haircut, I called for an appointment and got in that very afternoon. I also got out in less than 30 minutes. The strange part was not the actual haircutting, but the torrent of words that flew from my mouth whenever I opened it to say something simple like, ‘please cut it a bit more’. Instead, a tumbling jumbling of words totally out of my control followed in quick succession.

I apologized to the hairstylist and ventured to tell her that I’m usually the lady in the chair who’d rather not chat with the one cutting her hair. But somehow that statement didn’t ring quite true to what was occurring at that moment.

Aha. Makes sense. Re-entry means remembering to use certain social skills.

Laura Bruno Lilly Mother's Day 2021
Luckily, I got that stringy Pandemic hair whacked off in time for my Skype Mother’s Day celebration…

As for those braids…(obviously not of the hair type)…I had a hankering to try out a non-sourdough bread recipe. Like many of you, my kitchen was dubbed The Sourdough Lab during the height of the Pandemic. I’m sick of it. All of it. But have a slew of very cool sourdough this and sourdough that recipes I created and perfected during that season of isolating in place. Someday they’ll see the light of day again, but not right now.

Instead, I treated myself to a non-sourdough bread making experience. Using Cardamom, a spice first introduced to me by my Palestinian sister-friend Hiam back in the early 80s while we were living in the Bay Area.

She used it as the defining ingredient in the making of her fabulous coffee. As a result, I have been enamored with other uses of Cardamom ever since.

Her basic recipe?
A handful of cardamom pods, a handful or two of sugar, a handful or two of whole coffee beans in a pot of water set to boil until it becomes thick.              

I’ve never been able to recreate that luscious and potent brew by myself. She did it best.

I miss you, Hiam.

Anyway, here’s the recipe for my Cardamom Braid Bread.

It makes for a delicate flavored loaf with a good crumb. Tastes good with both sweet and savory meals but I like it best by itself, smothered in butter!

Cardamom Braid Bread

Cardamom Braid Bread


  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) or 2 scant tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1½ – 2 teaspoons ground cardamom (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons 2% milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, cardamom and salt. In a small saucepan, heat 1½ cups milk, butter and honey to 120°-130°. Add to dry ingredients; beat just until moistened. Add eggs; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a firm dough (dough will be sticky).
  • Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  • Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Divide each portion into thirds. Shape each into a 14-in. rope. Place 3 ropes on a greased baking sheet and braid; pinch ends to seal and tuck under. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
  • Brush with remaining milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375° until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.


  1. Yes we do have to warm up those social skills again. We’ve moved to masks not required just optional if you are not vaccinated and it is so weird to be mouth naked! I’ve still been wearing my mask most of the time as it is comforting now lol. Your hair cut looks awesome and what a delicious sounding recipe your shared 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Mouth naked! That says it all! 😀
      I, too, tend to lean in on the side of ‘cautious’ and have my mask ever at the ready!
      Hope you’re enjoying the MemDay Weekend festivities that have no doubt opened up since masks are now ‘optional’.

  2. Annika Perry

    Laura, I can empathise with the teeth grinding and my dentist despairs of me! It hurts like heck … I’m trying to relax at nighttime! Yeah! How exciting to be out again and enjoying a haircut – it really does feel like a touch of normal once again. I’m off to see my friend from uni tomorrow, the first time I meet a person outside the family for 14 months – excited and nervous! How does one do social again?! ?? Oh, the bread looks delicious and similar to braid bread made by my grandmother and she also used cardamon! I might take the courage and give this recipe a go – thank you for sharing! Happy Weekend!

    • laura bruno lilly

      I find it interesting that cardamom is a spice unique to both Scandinavian and Middle Eastern cultures. Saying that, I’m not at all surprised for your memories of your grandmother’s braid bread. The recipe is truly easy so I say: give it a go!

  3. Ally Bean

    I’m to get my hair cut in a few weeks. I’ll try to brush up on my social skills in the meantime. The bread recipe looks delicious. And the braid is perfect, too.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks, Ms Bean. It’s gratifying to know my experience alerted you to the hazards of getting a haircut after getting vaxed! I’m sure you’ll navigate your haircut appointment with much more social grace than I did!

  4. zippyquilts

    Dang! Now I want to find that cardamom coffee somewhere. Greensboro has lots of immigrants, so maybe I’ll start a search. Or ask a friend who’s with the state department. Whatever. Meanwhile, the bread sounds good!

    • laura bruno lilly

      HaHa! Too funny! Enjoy your search-with-a-purpose.

      • zippyquilts

        If I do find cardamom coffee I’ll let you know

        • laura bruno lilly

          Yes, please do!

  5. Janis @

    It’s been over a year since I’ve sat in a salon chair… even longer since I’ve been to the dentist. I hope to get a haircut soon – the look of yours is added incentive – and I imagine I shouldn’t put off a trip to the dentist for too long.. I also clutch and I have way before Covid, so I wear a night guard when I sleep. Your bread looks and sounds wonderful. Do you ship ??

    • laura bruno lilly

      LOL Now there’s an idea!
      Hope you get in both chairs sooner than later – I guarantee you’ll feel great (even if the dental chair isn’t anyone’s idea of fun).

  6. thewheelchairteen

    I’ve never heard of Braid Bread before, I’ll have to give it a go sometime. Congratulations on getting your jabs, I’m happy that it’s helped you to do more normal things like getting a haircut. It’s perfectly normal to be speaking to strangers like your hairdresser more after what we’ve all gone through after the past year. The haircut looks great!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for understanding about my ‘motor mouth’ while in the hairdresser chair! HA!

  7. cedar51

    You look so much happier and might I say at peace with your haircut.

    And that’s great about the dentist trip – I had one a few months ago, I’d broken some tooth partially and it was it seems still breaking up but I wasn’t truly well enough to deal with it, panadol to rescue. Finally had to give in – 2 teeth removed adjacent to one another – another 4 are recommended but the pain has gone, so they can wait, My pocket book likes that idea!

    And the rest of me, which hasn’t been well for well over 8 months is still having some issues . Some of the test results meant more meds, whilst others are more for me to work on me, slowly seems to be the key 🙂

    The vaccine process in New Zealand is quite different to other countries, and I’ve had my annual flu’ jab well in advance of the 2 weeks of that – but I could be further down the list, as the group I’m in – doesn’t start until late May and there are quite a few of us in that age group so I might not see it for a few months. We don’t have any community transmission here (touch wood) but I’m following the restrictions to the best of my ability. Which reminds me “must fill in my digital diary for today, home alone”

    • laura bruno lilly

      Catherine, I’m beginning to lean into ‘going slow’ and unless I stop and think about it too much, it seems a good way to navigate life’s ups and downs.
      Here’s hoping your other teeth don’t gang up on you with pain until you can afford to take care of the nasty boogers!!!!
      Take care.

  8. deborahbrasket

    I love your hair cut and recipes, and cardamom. Have you tried garam marsala? My go-to spice blend when going Eastern.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for the kudos on the haircut, Deborah. Yes, that is a great go-to. Kind of like the ‘Italian Blend’ seasoning mix – generic, but quite handy at times.

  9. Katharine Weinmann

    Gosh I know that mouth pain well. It suddenly came upon me while I was travelling alone in Tuscany a decade back. I woke the morning of my birthday in Lucca with that as a gift…plagued me off and on. Recall eating a wonderful meal in Florence holding my face my hand…Got home and discovered I needed a root canal but the longer term issue was grinding. It took a long, long time with a retainer, some grinding to finally be pain free. May it be much sooner resolved for you, Laura.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thank you Katherine for your well-wishes. How interesting that you remember the meal as being wonderful even though it was ‘enjoyed’ while in the midst of dental pain! Yikes.

  10. LA

    Hair looks lovely!! Time to unclench…

    • laura bruno lilly

      Do New Yorkers ever ‘unclench’?!! I ask that in the most delicate and sincerest of ways.
      Thanks for the kudos on the refreshed haircut, LA.

      • LA

        Nah…we just loosen up about 10 degrees…

  11. Laura

    You look terrific, Laura!

    I am ignoring my hair. I braid it and forget about it. After a several years absence, however, I am not ignoring visits to the dentist. I feel for ya! I did great through the cleaning, too, but it seems that I need to get a bridge replacement. The ouch is gonna be big in the financial budget!

    I love bread baking (which does not translate to being great at it)! I like cardamom, too, so I need to try your recipe. Thanks! 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh do try that recipe, Laura. It’s such a dream to bake-up which makes it that much more fun to ‘whip up’ in a lazy afternoon.
      Good luck with the continuing saga of your dental needs.

  12. rl2b2017

    Hi, my Laura! Oh. A hair cut. That is still on my to-do list along with a pedicure. I’ve had a few trims thanks to Sue’s sister but I need a good shaping. I’m SO glad to hear that you didn’t need a root canal or anything else painfully teeth related. Now how are you going to stop the clenching? The braided bread looks fab – I can almost smell it through my computer. {{Hugs}} Stay safe. ~smile~ Roseanne

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh gee, you read my mind – I thought for sure the pain was related to a rotting tooth under the only crown I’ve had since the 90s!!!! Thankfully, it was not.
      Here’s to the simple things like haircuts that help make easing back into a fully vaxxed life seem more ‘normal’.

  13. Anne

    I love your hair cut, Laura ~ and it is so nice to put a face to all the supportive comments I get from you! I have had to put off having work done on a crown, not because of COVID, but because I wasn’t sure my body would let me be in the one position for a long time. Now I know it would be okay, but have had to reschedule because my partner has been unwell. ~sigh~ Hopefully I can have a clear run at it very soon.
    As for chatting at the hairdresser…my hair has been cut by the same woman for many years. She’s an entertaining talker, so I love chatting to her, and we always have a lot to catch up on.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks, Anne. Happy to put a mug online for you to relate with my name on your blog comments! HA!
      I surely hope all is getting better for you and your partner. It’s always distressful during loved ones illnesses.

  14. Andy

    As a coffee lover, I’m tempted to try your friend’s recipe but I know I’ll just mess that up!
    And reading about fika in the comments, can I just add that I’ve done that in Stockholm itself ?
    Also haircuts were a memorable lockdown event here. I’m set to write about it soon ?

    • laura bruno lilly

      I look forward to the insights you’ll reveal in that haircut post! I’m not at all surprised to hear of you enjoying fika in the land of its origin – from your poetry and also just cuz it’s in keeping with your Northern Guy-ness!

  15. marissthequilter

    You get first prize for the most intriguing headline. (Unintentional half-pun.)
    And another prize for enjoying a visit to the dentist and not the hairdresser.
    Sorry to read about the side-effects of your COVID clench. The effects of this virus are frightening. (I too wake with an aching jaw.)
    What a beautiful bread!

    • laura bruno lilly

      HA! At least you’re honest about the intentions of your puns! Us punsters just see connections where others do not – intentional or not!

  16. Marty

    So glad you got through the dental appointment relatively unscathed. In the last year, I’ve had a root canal and (more recently) a crown replacement. I’d have preferred to wait another year for those kinds of procedures, but our teeth have no idea who or what a Covid is. I was (am?) a serious grinder, but the night guard appears to do its job. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world, but I’ve somehow gotten used to it.

    Great picture, Laura! After a year of my wife giving me haircuts (not always happily), I’m ready finally to get back into a barber shop.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yikes – I hope your teeth settle down now. Thanks for the thumbs up on my back-to-‘normal’ hairdo – HA! Hope your jaunt to the barber shop comes sooner than later – who knows how long this window of opportunity will last. Hopefully relapses into increased COVID cases will be minimal.

  17. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    I went to the dentist a few months ago, and I too had the Covid Clench. I was already wearing a retainer at night, and I had ground it out of shape. As for the hair, I am not yet ready to venture out to a real salon. I have not had shoulder length hair since the 80’s. My hair looks like a mix between Beethoven and Einstein. Something must be done soon. Thanks for the recipe.

    • laura bruno lilly

      OMG – An out of shape retainer is not a good thing! I’m still trying to find my way around an over-the-counter brand first before plunking down the money for the ‘custom’ one my dentist can do. I was reminded again this morning, CC will not just magically disappear!
      I like the image of you with a Beethoven and Einstein combo hairdo! Thanks for the laugh…actually it might enhance your group kazoo rehearsals.

      • Chela's Colchas y Mas

        I guess if rock stars can have wild hair, so can Kazoo stars ?

        • laura bruno lilly

          What a fantastic justification – er, I mean affirmation, Chela!

  18. Jane's Heartsong

    Before I discovered the infection, my dentist told me muscle spasms in the jaw had gone up 30% since the beginning of the year due to Covid.I did go to my hairdresser during the pandemic but we are in lockdown again for another week or two.We were getting over a thousand cases a day but it is going in the other direction.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Hang in there, Jane. Your country’s returning to lockdown is a reminder we (USA) are still on a razor’s edge. – Sigh –
      I hope your infection is under control now.

  19. petespringerauthor

    I used to grind my teeth a lot—perhaps, I still do. I tried wearing a mouth guard, but I’m such a fussy sleeper that I wouldn’t sleep. I’ve got far fewer headaches since retirement, so hopefully my grinding days have passed.

    • laura bruno lilly

      The even better news on that dental experience is the fact that he made sure to let me know I’m not a grinder, but a clencher…I’m thinking grinding is way more awful. Glad to hear your grinding days are (hopefully) behind you, Pete.

  20. L. Marie

    First of all, you look fabulous, Laura! Congrats on getting what you needed done. Also, that bread looks amazing! I have never made bread from scratch, so I need to work up the courage to try this recipe.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Wow, thanks for the huge compliment, L. Marie.
      As for that bread, I’d say it’d be a great first-time-to-try-baking-bread recipe to follow.

  21. piecefulwendy

    Covid Clench was definitely here, but I didn’t get off quite as fortunately as you. I have some painful dental visits in the next couple of weeks. I am ignoring my hair, but we’ll see how long it lasts as the weather gets warmer. Thanks for the bread recipe, it looks delicious!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh ouch! What a bad deal for you, Wendy. As for the hair, well I”m good at ignoring it, too – around here though once the heat and humidity begins it gets unbearable!
      I’m thinking Cardamom is a common spice used in Scandinavian foods – soooo this calls for a Fika date, wouldn’t you say?

  22. Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet

    So relatable, Laura! I love your haircut. <3 I also got my hair cut yesterday. Being fully vaccinated is a giant step toward normalcy! I am grateful. The bread looks delicious. All the best! 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yippee – feels so good, doesn’t it?
      All the best to you, too, Cheryl.

  23. laura bruno lilly

    Thanks, ‘my other’ Laura! this was fun.

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