Barbara Costello — known affectionately on TikTok and Instagram as Babs of Brunch With Babs — is the preeminent source for kitchen traditions and hosting in style.
Hosting for the holidays — especially for the first time — can feel so daunting. How do you make Christmas special for the whole family? The holidays have looked so different the past few years amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so Us Weekly consulted her for some advice.
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Costello, 74, got onto social media early in the coronavirus pandemic, like so many other creators. She was living with her daughter, Liz Ariola, who was pregnant with her third child at the time. She gained a following while helping around the house and caring for her two grandsons. Ariola does the filming and editing, but Costello is the one who takes it away in front of the camera and manages the comments and messages behind the username.
The culinary star uploaded her first video in April 2020, and the rest is history. Now with nearly 5 million followers on TikTok and Instagram combined, she’s earned her self-acclaimed title as “the internet’s grandma.”
The Italian-Lebanese matriarch’s debut cookbook, Celebrate With Babs, was published in April. The book centers around hosting and cooking for the holidays, and it includes a recipe for every special occasion throughout the year.
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While speaking exclusively to Us, Costello weighed in on forging new Christmas traditions, giving the perfect gift and even serving up the perfect cocktail with some creative holiday drink recipes. Scroll down to read the full Q&A:
Us Weekly: How did you get into TikTok? When you first made your account, what was your goal?
Barbara Costello: One afternoon … [my daughter] said, “Mom, I think you should try TikTok!” And of course, I said absolutely 100 percent no. She said, “People are home, they have time, they’ll appreciate this. Once we started posting, the comments were very heartfelt. [It was] very much an outpouring in a very uncertain time. I was giving people comfort, reminding them of their family, of their mom, of their mom who had passed away, of the grandmother they didn’t know.
Us: What are your best tips for lazy girls at Christmas? How do you make a holiday tradition special?
BC: It takes two years to establish a tradition. I think even if you want to be low-key about it, I would suggest making it your tradition, whatever that may be.
Do what you’re comfortable with but establish tradition. [It could be] having friends over for a potluck during the week even, or maybe a brunch where people come in their PJs, just some fun kind of button-down ideas. Because if it works for you, then it works! And if you do it two years in a row, you have your own family tradition.
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Us: Now, we have a very pressing question. What is your favorite Christmas movie?
BC: I’m a traditionalist, so my favorite is It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ll watch it once a year. It really nails it for me. Every life is so important, and you don’t know the lives that you touch just by being here. It’s the essence of Christmas.
Us: How do you manage pressure when it comes to the holidays?
BC: I love Christmas. I love the baking, the decorations. But the thing that we need to corral is… don’t let the gift-giving overwhelm you! The gift-giving shouldn’t put you over the top and make you feel like that’s the focus because it’s not.
Us: Good point. Any advice for gift-giving if you’re struggling with finances?
BC: Take a picture of yourself with a bow on your head and put that picture in a card and say, “Mom, Dad, Grandma, Etc., I am your present! You and I are going to spend the entire day together and you’re going to plan it out! I’m going to do what you want to do!”
[Quality time together] is something that will be remembered long after you open a gift that you’re going to forget about in a year or less.
Us: Turkey or ham?
BC: NEITHER. Prime rib of beef. I only buy it once a year. That is the main event for Christmas dinner. But also, with my Italian family, we always have ravioli or pasta before the turkey.
Us: Any tips on setting the table for Christmas dinner?
BC: I have my Christmas Spode. I think because people aren’t using Christmas China now the way they used to, a lot of pieces are discounted. You can find a starter set much cheaper than you think. You can go to HomeGoods and they will have these pieces are their stores. The day after Thanksgiving, I take out my Christmas China and I use it every day. I use it for cereal. I use it for everyday meals. It’s not just used for two meals. I use it for six weeks.
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Us: And what do you put in your cup? Do you have a favorite holiday drink?
BC: We make lovely Christmas margaritas with cranberry kombucha and pomegranate juice and tequila and Cointreau. You can make those ahead of time and even put them in food-safe, clear glass ornaments. Then you just put one in a glass filled with ice and then people can open it and pour it right on. Then garnish it with sugared cranberries and a sprig of rosemary.
For the kids, I have to say we love making slow-cooker hot chocolate. It’s made with 2 cups of chocolate morsels, and 1 cup of caramels. It’s in a slow cooker for three hours, until the chocolate and the caramels have melted and, of course, 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of heavy cream. Then, we love to decorate each of the mugs! Believe me, this is fabulous for adults too.
And if you need a little bit of a kicker in that, you could always make it alcoholic with a little Peppermint Schnapps. We decorate every mug with Brach’s Mini Candy Canes. We take one of those, put it into a regular-sized marshmallow, dip it in some chocolate, and then add some holiday sprinkles. [After you] let it dry, you can use the Brach’s minis as your hot chocolate stirrer.
Reporting by Angela Cuseo
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