5 Festive Holiday Grogs

In this blustery weather, there’s nothing better than some warm holiday grogs to kick off the cheer of the season. With or without alcohol, the following holiday drink recipes can add some flair to your festivities. Enjoy the aroma of mulled cider, sip a rich cup of Mexican hot chocolate after a snowy walk, or serve a ginger-infused eggnog or espresso almond latte while wrapping presents. Whatever the occasion, you’ll love these delicious holiday drinks.

Ginger-infused Eggnog

Serves 4 to 6

1 quart good-quality eggnog

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup ginger syrup, or to taste

4 ounces light rum, optional

2 tablespoons chopped, candied ginger

Grated nutmeg

Combine the eggnog, cinnamon, ginger syrup and rum in a large pitcher. Stir well and chill for at last 2 hours. Pour into 4 to 6 mugs and top with a sprinkling of candied ginger and grated nutmeg.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Serves 8

4 cups whole milk

Four 12-ounce cans evaporated milk

8 ounces chopped Mexican chocolate (or other good-quality bittersweet chocolate)

1/4 teaspoon ancho or chipotle chili powder, or to taste

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla bean, split down the middle (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

4 ounces tequila, optional

Whipped cream

Cocoa powder

In a large heavy-duty saucepan, combine the whole and evaporated milk, chocolate, chili powder, cinnamon and vanilla bean over moderate heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate is completely melted and the drink has a creamy consistency. Remove from heat; allow cinnamon and vanilla to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the sticks and pod before serving. Stir in the liqueur, if using, and top each portion with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Spiced Citrus Apple Cider

Serves 8 to 10

2 quarts apple cider

2 cinnamon sticks, plus additional as garnish

3 whole cloves

2 allspice berries

1 orange, cut into thin slices.

Juice of half fresh lemon

8 ounces apple brandy, optional

Combine ingredients in a large pot over moderate heat. Allow to simmer 10 minutes to develop flavors. Strain and serve each portion with an ounce of apple brandy and cinnamon stick.

Santa’s Kiss

Champagne or sparkling wine

Fresh pomegranate juice

Fill each champagne flute three-quarters full. Add a splash of pomegranate juice to taste.

Espresso Amaretto Latte

Serves 8

8 to 16 shots good-quality espresso coffee

2 cups half-and-half, warmed

1/2 cup almond-flavored liqueur, optional

Whipped cream and shaved semi-sweet chocolate, optional

Combine coffee with warmed half-and-half and liqueur (if using). Garnish with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Stress-relieving Gifts for $10 or Less

This holiday season, consider giving the gift of stress reduction. Not only are the following items proven to be stress relieving, but they’re also affordable -- they’re all $10 or less. So go ahead: Pick up one for yourself, too!

Lavender Oil: This calming scent can help you unwind and sleep better. Try whiffing the cap of this Aura Cacia Pure Essential Oil ($9.99; drugstore.com), or add a few drops to a bedroom diffuser.

Tea: According to a British study, people who sipped tea had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a stressful event than those who didn’t. A unique tea blend makes for a special gift. Our pick is a rooibos red tea blend from South Africa: Good Hope Vanilla Red Tea Bags ($10; republicoftea.com).

Epsom Salts: Relax tight, aching muscles by adding these magnesium-rich salts to your bath. Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt Soaking Solution has a calming lavender scent ($4.99; ulta.com).

Chocolate: This delicious treat triggers the brain to release endorphins, which are feel-good brain chemicals. Opt for dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants, like See’s Candies Premium Extra Dark Chocolate Bar Gift Pack ($9; sees.com).

Candle: Fill your home with a soothing scent, such as Febreze Meadows & Rain candle ($7.59; soap.com).

Hand Cream: An ultra-luxe lotion can fend off chapped nails. Stash a portable tube, like the Body Shop’s Mini Almond Hand & Nail Cream ($6; thebodyshop-usa.com), in your purse to have at all times. While you’re rubbing it in, give your hands a little massage as a stress-relieving break in your day.

Music: Put on some classical tunes for instant relaxation. Mozart for Meditation ($4.99; barnesandnoble.com) compiles some of the composer’s most serene songs.

Holiday Fashion: Slenderize Your Look

The holiday season can be disastrous for our figures: It’s hard to avoid turkey, stuffing and sweets between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But even if you put on a few pounds during the holidays, the rest of the world doesn’t have to know. Choosing the right clothes and accessories can make you look (and feel!) slimmer. Dress to impress with these slimming tricks.

Slimming Trick No. 1: Play Up Your Assets

Fight the urge to hide in baggy clothes, which can accentuate flaws. Instead, accentuate your best features. For instance, a scoop neck can play up your collarbone while drawing attention away from your stomach. Also avoid boxy shapes, such as cardigans and blouses that end at the hip, and opt for longer cuts. This elongates your body to give you a trimmer appearance. Need extra help? Consider shapewear, which will help smooth out any problem areas.

Slimming Trick No. 2: Go Dark

Dark hues have a slimming effect, so be strategic. If your hips are a problem area, reach for a black skirt or pants. Pair that with black tights and shoes to lengthen your figure. And consider adding a pop of red, which is another slenderizing shade. Vertical stripes -- especially thin ones like pinstripes -- can also mask a few pounds.

Slimming Trick No. 3: Choose the Right Cut

When it comes to jeans, a midrise dark-wash with a slight boot or flare cut is generally the most flattering. For dresses, look for an empire waist that’s tightest below the bust and flares outwards. This shape emphasizes the narrowest part of your body while covering up your belly and hips. Similarly, an A-line skirt offers the same effect. Finish the look with a belt around the waist to play up that hourglass shape.

Also, look for a long winter coat. A lengthy cut that covers your hips will create the illusion of a tall, lean figure.

Slimming Trick No. 4: Accessorize Wisely

Whether you’re sporting jeans, a dress or skirt, adding a pair of heels will make your legs and torso seem more slender.

Long scarves and necklaces are an excellent way to draw attention to the slimmest area of your body. To make your face look thinner, highlight the length of your neck by pulling your hair up and away from your face in the form of a sleek bun or ponytail.

Slimming Trick No. 5: Choose Flattering Fabrics

It’s possible to stay warm without looking chunky. Choose cashmere and cotton sweaters instead of wool and other bulky materials. And when you layer, put darker colors underneath and lighter colors on top for an added slimming effect. 

Holiday Greetings for Less

We all like to receive holiday greetings … but sending them? Not so much. Traditional cards and letters take time and money. But thanks to new Web sites and tools, plus your own creativity, you can make merry for free -- and skip the trip to the post office. Cheers!

Put Words Into Action!
This year, send your greetings up close and personal, in a holiday mini-video. Thanks to easy-to-use gadgets like Flip camcorders and Aiptek pocket cams, videos are now easy to make. Your iTouch and some cell phones work just as well too. Or if your computer has a camera, you can shoot it right from there. Blogger David Spark of Spark Minute recommends the free site Tokbox to send your video. You can easily set up an account and send as many greetings as you want, all for free.

Tips: Check for sufficient lighting and keep the greeting between 10 and 30 seconds. If you’re providing a complete update, limit it to three minutes. Think about shooting in an offbeat or funny location and make sure the footage isn’t shaky.

Say It With Music
Send the gift of song along with your holiday hellos. It can be a contemplative classical piece or a lively, toe-tapping jingle. You could email a single song or links to all your favorites, suggests Heather Sokol, who blogs at Inexpensively. Amazon offers free downloads of five classics, including “The Nutcracker Suite” and “The Messiah,” performed by world-class orchestras. To hear some thrilling vocals, give a listen to the Web site Feels Like Christmas, with artists like Sixpence None the Richer performing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and the seriously hip a cappella group Tonic Sol-fa performing their rendition of “Joy to the World.” All downloads are properly licensed and free.

Elf Yourself
Thanks to the Web site Elf Yourself by Office Max, you can finally find out what you’d look like as an elf -- and so can all your friends. This hilarious site lets you upload family faces (up to five) and pair each with one of four dances (disco, hip-hop, classic, country) complete with music. Think of an elf with your face hustling under a disco ball. You can post the 30-second spot on Facebook or email it to everyone on your list -- completely free.

Send an E-letter
Buying bordered paper at a stationery store, addressing all of those envelopes, making a trip to the post office for stamps: By the time you’ve finished all these chores, you don’t have the time or energy to actually write your annual catch-up letter! Here to help? The Web site My Web Letter. You can choose from among six Christmas and Hanukkah templates, write your letter and easily upload photos in it, then email it to as many friends as you want -- all for free. Your customized greetings can also be shared via Facebook. Expecting moms: This site also offers new baby templates.

Send a Flavor of the Season
It’s the perfect time of year to share a favorite family recipe -- for a special hors d’oeuvre, holiday dish or your killer spiked eggnog -- with the folks on your list. By illustrating your email with eye-catching clip art and adding a photo or two of your clan along with the recipe, you’ve created a delicious way to say “Happy Holidays.”

7 Secrets to Trim Thanksgiving Costs

Every year, the American Farm Bureau Federation announces how much the average cook will spend on a Thanksgiving feast for 10. And every year, many of us just roll our eyes: “Last year they said it would cost $42.91 for everything,” says veteran Thanksgiving host Carol Reiman of Mountain Lakes, N.J. “I easily spend that much on the turkey alone.”

You, like Reiman, might never quite match the AFBF’s low Thanksgiving price tag, “but if you get creative with simple substitutions, use coupons and plan ahead, you may find that number to be pretty realistic,” says Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com.

Here, some tips to help you trim Thanksgiving costs -- without skimping on your celebration. 

1. Start saving Sunday circulars now.
Stores start issuing coupons for Thanksgiving staples like cranberry sauce and stuffing mix weeks in advance. “No need to actually clip the coupons,” says Nelson. “Just write the date on the front of each circular and keep them all together.” A week or so before Thanksgiving, log on at CouponMom.com or a similar coupon website. You’ll learn which stores near you have sales on the Thanksgiving foods you need. Then compare the listings with the coupon circulars you saved for a double discount.

2. Organize and inventory before you shop.
“Pull out all the recipes you plan to use and make a list, along with specific amounts of what’s needed,” advises Nelson. Then inventory your cabinets: Knowing now there’s only 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder in the can helps you avoid a last-minute dash to the pricey market around the corner. Discovering you still have two cans of cranberry sauce from last Thanksgiving helps you avoid redundancies.

3. Cut back on how much you cook.
Families across the country waste nearly 25 percent of the food they prepare for Thanksgiving, because they simply prepare way too much. Try reducing overall quantities. Do you really need to triple grandma’s candied yam recipe, or would doubling do? Or just reduce the number of options: Make one kind of potato instead of two and do away with traditional warhorses (like that green gelatin) that nobody seems to eat anyway.

4. Don’t be afraid to make substitutions.
When that sweet potato recipe calls for chopped pecans on top, don’t shell out $5 for a 16-ounce bag. Use whatever nuts you have on hand -- or get creative. “I use a crumble topping with oatmeal, butter and brown sugar that comes from an apple crisp recipe. It costs just pennies to make,” says Nelson. For recipes with small doses of specific spices or flavorings, you can usually make a substitution (swap an onion for a shallot, for example) or just skip it altogether.

5. Warehouse wisely.
Bulk prices aren’t a bargain if you have to buy more than you need. Since you’re cooking similar menus, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to shop with a buddy and split those monster bags of potatoes, vats of grapes and buckets of onion dip.

6. Trim the trimmings.
Instead of paying big bucks for flower arrangements, work with what you’ve got. Ferry in your potted mums from outside. Fill clear glass bowls with lemons, oranges or apples from the fridge. Or clip evergreen stalks from trees in the yard and arrange them in tall vases: They’ll smell great and be right in tune with the season.

7. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
If guests offer to bring something, take them up on it! Granted, the turkey is your gig. (Frozen store brands are your best bargain; many stores even give out free frozen turkeys once you spend a certain amount.) But everything else -- dessert, appetizers, side dishes, wine -- is fair game. Just be sure you don’t put perennially late Aunt Sally on hors d’oeuvres duty. And if you’re not crazy about Uncle Fred’s kitchen flair, ask him to bring ice cream. Remember, Thanksgiving is all about sharing the harvest’s bounty. And most people are more than happy to contribute to the table.