Musical staff

U of T students, staff and faculty share pandemic hobbies

Solving Wordle’s daily mystery word has become the latest in a long line of pandemic-era hobbies – starting with the sourdough baking craze of 2020.

Still, while the online puzzle has quickly garnered millions of followers, it’s not the only thing helping people cope with a freezing winter amid the latest – and hopefully final – surge. transmission of COVID-19.

U of T News asked University of Toronto students, staff and faculty what makes them happy these days.

Divya Dey

Bachelor of Science student at U of T Scarborough

(Photo courtesy of Divya Dey)

As a fourth year environmental science student at the University of Scarborough, I love being immersed in the great outdoors! But being a student, it can be hard to find time to do the things I love, so since the pandemic began, I’ve made it my mission to try new things outdoors.

I’ve been cliff jumping, caving, tree climbing, camping, visiting farms, gardening and hiking countless times across Ontario. It allowed me to push my personal limits, try new things, and bond with my family (especially my dog) while doing it!

Charlie Keil

Principal of Innis College and Professor in the History Department of the Faculty of Arts and Science

When the pandemic caused my local gym to close, I started running every day – always early in the morning. There’s not a lot of techno music you can listen to, which led me to podcasts. I have now become a follower, especially of those who offer political analysis or cultural commentary.

The only caveat: they should last almost an hour, so that I don’t have to switch selections in the middle of my run. COVID-19 is deeply pernicious, but it has provided an opportunity for sustained edification. A regular dose of Ezra Klein is good for the brain. And now I can’t live without my weekly episodes of Slate Political Gabfest and Culture Gabfest.

Lisa Erdle

Doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

One thing that keeps me going through the last phase of the pandemic is spending time outdoors.

At this time of year, the waterways around the Toronto Islands typically freeze over. This year, in the middle of the cold, we had perfect conditions for skating.

We also got a little creative – my husband and I built an ‘ice sail’ by reusing items we found in the trash, including a broken paddle and a torn sail.

Getting out on the ice (with safety gear, of course) and trying something new reminds me that we can have adventures in our own backyard.

Nick Iwanyshyn

Photographer and video producer at U of T Mississauga

(Photos courtesy of Nick Iwanyshyn)

My fiancé and I moved from Toronto to Hamilton in the spring of 2020.

Over the summer, we got into the habit of cycling to a café every Saturday – never the same twice – to explore our new surroundings. Some of our favorite cafes so far are Smalls Coffee, Durand Coffee and Synonym Shop.

With the temperature sometimes dropping as low as -20 degrees Celsius, it can be hard to find the motivation to go outside. But even in the depths of winter, I never regret leaving the house for an oatmeal cappuccino.

Jaco Lokker

Director of Culinary Operations and Executive Chef

Like many, I rediscovered the pleasure of cooking at home. I started the pandemic by hustling, trying to find yeast and flour so I could make bread. I quickly realized that bread was not my thing.

After that, I spent my summer barbecuing, having a friendly competition with my neighbor to see who would master the almighty brisket.

With the arrival of autumn, I finally found my true passion: making incredible, rich and tasty homemade broths. Or some would prefer to call them bone broth. For me, they are the same. They bring an immense amount of flavor to meals. I use them as a base for all my soups and stews. I have also used them for dishes like risotto or to make rice pilaf or paella.

I added a recipe for my favourite: leek and potato soup. For those who still make bread, I bow to you!

(Photos courtesy of Jaco Lokker)

Jaco Lokker Leek and Potato Soup

Servings: 8
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total duration: 1 hour

30 gr. – Butter
700 gr. — (3 large) coarsely chopped leeks, white and light green only
700 gr. — (8 medium) yellow flesh peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 l. — Chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 — Bay leaves
250ml. — 35 percent cream
To taste — Himalayan sea salt
To taste — Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped chives for garnish


  • Melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring regularly, until tender. Adjust the heat if necessary, to prevent the leek from blackening.
  • Add potatoes, your choice of chicken or vegetable broth and bay leaves. Let the pot boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add the 35% cream and season.
  • Remove the bay leaves, then puree the soup with a hand immersion blender or regular blender until smooth.
  • Serve in a bowl and garnish with chives or parsley.