Yes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper are COVID-19 quarantine essentials. So, apparently, are jigsaw puzzles, bread machines and paint.

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Kari DeHaven has been baking since she was a kid, learning from her grandma.

But she'd never tried sourdough until a new work-from-home routine and inspiration from social media convinced her to give it a shot. Since Friday, she's made two loaves and some sourdough waffles.

"One great thing with baking is it gives you a little bit of a sense of control. In the chaotic world we're living in, it's soothing to be working with my hands in the kitchen," said DeHaven, 26, who's staying with family in Sycamore, Ill. "Touching, tasting, utilizing all my senses helps ground me."

She's not alone. So many people have been firing up their ovens that consumers say flour and yeast can be tough to find.

Faced with orders to hunker down at home in an attempt to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, consumers stocked up on canned beans and cleaning products. But stores and analysts said shoppers also snapped up items that aren't obvious essentials, like electric skillets, house paint and puzzles.

Families with parents working from home while kids are out of school need ways to fill the time. So do people social distancing while living alone.


People feel good when they're engaged in activities that take a bit of effort and skill or involve learning something new, said Howard Nusbaum, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist and director of the Center for Practical Wisdom at the University of Chicago.

"We feel better doing it because we're improving ourselves and the situation around us," he said.

It's especially true if the activity makes people feel more socially connected, whether that means taking on a project that can be shared with friends or family -- like a fresh-baked loaf -- or just talking about it with them afterward, he said.

Sourdough, in particular, seems to have attracted bakers looking for a new challenge. Melissa Wongkamalasai-Monar, owner of pHlour Bakery & Cafe in Chicago, said she usually sells one or two sourdough starters a month but sold 10 in about a week after Illinois' stay-at-home order went into effect.


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