Savvy Texas hosts know that planning a holiday soiree can mean drinks around a roaring fire…or entertaining guests in sunshine on the deck.

So it’s a good idea to have some variety in your bar menu—bracing beverages for chilly nights as well as tart cocktails with wintry ingredients. Luckily, Cointreau is in your liquor cabinet, right?  Its versatility as a full-strength spirit is unequaled. Whether you’re mixing up a kettle of hot cider or muddling the spirit with aromatics, Cointreau is the barman’s best friend. See two holiday favorites below. 

Whatever the holiday forecast, lifestyle guru Athena Calderone of Eye-Swoon has some bright ideas for bringing originality and fun to your seasonal celebrations. We asked her to tackle our most pressing concerns about pulling off a stellar holiday gathering.

What can I do to liven up the party and get the conversation started?

I have a book of quotes that I often use for family celebrations. Last Christmas I tore out a few quotes that expressed gratitude and love for family and friends, rolled each one individually, tied them with a pretty ribbon and placed them in a brass bowl on the table. Each guest chose a quote to read aloud. It started a wonderful conversation centered on the things we value most.

I’m hopeless at party décor. Help!

Pick a specific palette. Let your floral arrangements be the starting point and carry their colors through to your linens and other decor elements, like candlesticks. This year I will stick to white berries and silvery greens on the tabletop–these hues will inspire the sage-toned napkins and candlesticks I select. 

Add an element that’s rustic or handmade. Guests always appreciate something created by you or your family. Consider writing your menu on a brown paper bag with a sweet little takeaway gift inside–I’m a big fan of peanut brittle or candied nuts. Tie each bag with twine and an herb element. Continue this theme by using brown craft paper to wrap your gifts, and top them off with twine ribbon and a touch of greenery. 

With that in mind, always add a touch of nature to each place setting. A sprig of holly or a rosemary wreath around your napkins makes for a simple and beautiful addition. Consider wrapping each plate and napkin with a velvet ribbon.

I need an idea for an unusual touch guests will remember.

Consider serving a signature cocktail upon your guests arrival–something festive and celebratory. It will make the evening that much more memorable. (See two great suggestions for such cocktails below).

Any tips for the first-time host with party-panic nerves?

Five minutes before your guests are due, run around the room lighting as many votive candles as you can. Candlelight is not only the most flattering light but it makes it appear as if you’ve got it all under control–even if you don’t. 😉

I’m serving buffet-style. How do I make this look elegant?

Get creative with juxtaposed elements: If I use a vintage wood piece, I’ll contrast it with matte gold utensils. Using different textures and heights is crucial to building an eye-catching buffet. A well-done spread like this lends a casual but elegant feel to the party, allowing guests to nibble and mingle with ease!

Treat your guests to one (or both!) of these decidedly different cocktails that employ the pleasing punch of Cointreau.

Cointreau Cider

1 oz. Cointreau

2 oz. fresh lime juice

4 oz. hot mulled cider

Stir and garnish with fresh grated nutmeg or cinnamon and a slice of apple.

Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey

2 oz. Cointreau

1 oz. fresh lime juice

3 slices tart apple

7 leaves fresh rosemary

3-4 oz. club soda

Muddle the apple and rosemary in the bottom of a glass. Add Cointreau and lime juice with ice and top with club soda. Stir briefly.

Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of apple.