5 things to do for under $12 with a cheap box of wine

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That box of wine you bought for daily sipping can become a magical wellspring of uses for the holidays. To get into the Christmas spirit, WalletPop offers five thrifty ideas to think outside the box.

1. GINGERBREAD HOUSE OF WINE

Turn your wine dispenser into a storybook dream that will have guests sipping happily ever after. Wall the box with gingerbread, add a roof, make room for the tap, and decorate. It might be the only real estate on your block worth toasting.

Make up a tale of how the cottage morphed into a wine fountain and put it in writing on a placard next to the house. Something about a witch and Ernst Gallo? You won't be able to use a custom gingerbread house kit because you'll have to cut the dough to fit your box. Unbaked gingerbread sheets are available from Pillsbury and others. Or ask your local bakery to make gingerbread sheets for you and cut them according to specs.

Make the mortar with a standard royal frosting by beating together one pound of powdered sugar, one teaspoon of cream of tartar, three egg whites and a teaspoon of vanilla. Apply gum drops, candy canes, maybe even old corks. This vintage house will never be confused with a fixer-upper.

"It's a nice way to serve wine," Lisa Commitante, the manager of Monteleone Bakery in Brooklyn, N.Y., told WalletPop. "Very festive." ($11.95 with the store-bought sheets)



2. HAIR COLORING GIFTS FOR REDHEADS

Give the carrot tops in your life the gift of 25 proof highlighting. For every treatment, combine one cup of shampoo with a cup of wine and one tablespoon of red hibiscus steeped for 30 minutes in the wine. Massage into the hair and scalp. Rinse.

"It will give a little pigmentation," Albert Amin, a stylist at Fine Artistik Salon in New York City, said to WalletPop. But Amin and Babette Beja, manager of Umberto in Beverly Hills, Ca., caution that a pinkish hue might emerge. Wine boxes like the popular brand Franzia often come in 5-liter sizes (169 ounces), so do the math for how many bottles you'll need. ($11)

3. SPICED CHRISTMAS CHEER

Raid the Schilling rack to serve a hot spiced wine for your shindig. Jack Frost will be nipping this, instead of your nose. The recipe, expanded from the original, calls for a 5-liter box of red wine, 6 1/2 tablespoons of light brown sugar, 5 teaspoons of pumpkin pie seasoning, 6 sliced oranges, 6 cinnamon sticks and a 3/4 cup of raisins. Heat at medium-low but DO NOT BOIL. That will kill the alcohol -- and maybe the evening. ($6)

4. PASS IT OFF AS THE GOOD STUFF

We don't recommend this for a guest list packed with sommeliers, but you could pour the box wine into empty bottles of a higher caliber. Worse has been done in this economic spiral.

Just tell your visitors you left the corks off to let the wine aerate. Don't aim too high. If you should happen to find unrecycled bottles of Chateau Margaux 1995, you'd probably be better off turning them into vases. Pick bottles that once housed wines in a reasonable double-digit dollar range. That should suffice to impress.

But if somebody discovers your ruse, don't come running to us. We'll be hiding out by the the egg nog. ($0 if you have the bottles on hand)

5. OFFICE PARTY SPAGHETTI SAUCE

Budget-conscious bosses won't be accused of Grinching out when they serve this sumptuous sea of red wine marinara. There will be enough resveratrol flowing through employees to keep that group health plan alive.

The following has been simplified and multiplied from a recipe that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. In an industrial-size pot, combine a 1 5-liter box of red wine, 1 1/4 cups of extra-virgin olive oil, 7 tablespoons of sauteed minced garlic and 7 teaspoons of sauteed red pepper flakes. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook 6 pounds of pasta in the sauce. The pasta and sauce finish together. Add 7 tablespoons of butter at the end. Buon Natale! ($10).
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