In Person of Interest we talk to the people catching our eye right now about what they’re doing, eating, reading, and loving. Next up is Barbara ‘Babs’ Costello, author of the cookbook, Celebrate With Babsand grandmother behind the beloved TikTok and Instagram accountsBrunch with Babs.
If you’ve ever wondered how to make your own all-purpose cleaning solution, what goes into a truly perfect omelet, or the practical steps required to change your life, you need to be following Barbara ‘Babs’ Costello. Since the early days of the pandemic, Costello, a 73-year-old mom of four and grandmother of eight, has been sharing recipes, hacks, and tidbits of advice to her now two million-plus Instagram and TikTok followers. Today, all of that has culminated in the release of her first cookbook: Celebrate with Babswhich is full of family recipes and carefully-curated menu plans for many of the biggest holidays.
I started watching Costello’s videos almost daily, after a colleague shared one of her reels with me—a two ‘ingredient’ pumpkin bread made with Duncan Hines spice cake mix, a can of orange-hued purée, and an optional (but not really) dump of choc chips. At that point in 2020, cooking was no longer the existential salve it had been. I was burnt out, squirrelly with anxiety, and desperately homesick, having not seen my Australian or Polish families in over a year at that point. Costello, a former preschool teacher, exuded the kind of warmth and calming comfort I, and evidently many others, seemed to be looking for.
From her soothing series of philosophical pep talks, dubbed ‘A Slice of Peace,’ to her ‘Weekly Rotation’ recipes and easy spring cleaning ideas, Costello speaks to her internet audience as if we were her own children and grandchildren: uplifting, instructing, and sharing her life lessons. While holding a blueberry coffee cake, she explains how the best host gifts are the ones that can be eaten the next morning after a long night of entertaining. And as she cleans out her daughter’s packed refrigerator, she reminds you that it’s colder at the bottom, which is where you should keep your dairy and eggs. The simple clips, which are playfully edited by her daughter, are both genuinely helpful and heart-warming reminders of the way our kitchens can be powerful sources of love and care.
Amid the chaotic lead up to her cookbook release, I called Costello on her way home from a day of filming at her daughter’s house in Connecticut to talk about her surprising internet virality, her number one spring cleaning tip, and how she dives head-first into everything life throws at her.
I first joined TikTok… while my daughter had two little ones and she was pregnant with number three. She was having a lot of morning sickness and was very tired. So I said, “You know what, I’ll hunker down with you for a little bit and help you out.” And one afternoon, when the boys were asleep, we were in the kitchen and she said, “Mom, I really think you have to try TikTok.” A few of my granddaughters posted videos of their dancing, but I wasn’t going to do that. She said, “No, I really think you have so much to teach people.”