10 Best Hot Chocolate Recipes

10 Best Hot Chocolate RecipesConfession time! Despite all my best intentions to freshen and lighten things up in the New Year now that the holidays are passed, I’ve got hot chocolate on the brain in a major way this week. I’m blaming it on the blizzard. We’ve been getting positively hammered with snow since Monday night and it’s supposed to continue all the way through today. (They’re saying as much as six feet before it’s all done!) Following the icestorm that had us out of power for a few days right before Christmas, it’s safe to say that winter is definitely testing us here in our neck of the woods this year. Never fear. We Upstate New Yorkers know how to handle winter. Part of the strategy? Hot chocolate to warm the bones after marathon shoveling sessions.

Today I’ve rounded up 10 of the best hot chocolate recipes to keep you feeling warm and cozy all winter long. Some are entirely decadent. Some are a little boozy. Some are healthier than you might think. (I swear.) So click through for all the yumminess!


DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

by Chelsea Costa

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

Every year after Christmas, my mom and I are so bummed to take down all of the decorations. So this year I decided that we needed some transition decorations that wouldn’t make us so sad to take down the tree at her house. My mom insisted on keeping up a few twinkly lights, and I got started on a surprisingly simple little magnolia leaf garland! I love that it feels wintery but doesn’t necessarily scream “holiday,” and that it’s pretty cost-effective, especially if you have a magnolia tree in your neighborhood. Let’s get started!

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

Supplies -

  • fresh magnolia leaves
  • floral wire
  • rope or thick twine
  • wire cutters
  • gloves

Start by gathering your magnolia leaves. For this project, estimate about 20 or 25 magnolia leaves per foot, depending on how full you’d like your garland to be. Wipe down all the leaves to rid them of excess dirt.

Put your gloves on to protect your hands while you’re working with the floral wire. Gather three or four leaves and arrange them in a fan, then wrap a 3″ portion of floral wire around the stems to hold them together. I alternated three and four leaves in these bunches just to change the texture of the garland a bit. You’ll be attaching these little bundles to the rope at about 3″ intervals, so make enough of them to accommodate your entire garland.

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

Using another 3″ length of floral wire, wrap the first bundle to the rope. I recommend starting on the left end of the rope and having the stems of the leaves pointing to the right; that way you aren’t working backward as you attach more bundles to the rope.

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

Keep attaching the leaves as you see fit until the rope is full! This particular method is for a garland that will be laying or hanging flat against a surface. If your garland will be visible from both sides, repeat the process with the leaf bundles on the other side of the rope so that it’s completely hidden.

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

We set our garlands out over a little hutch and hanging on some french doors, but you could put these in a zillion places. I love the fresh look and that it takes the place of some of the holiday decorations that will be packed away for next year! Wishing you all a wonderful new year, and happy making! xoxo

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

DIY Magnolia Leaf Garland

[Photos by Lovely Indeed for The Sweetest Occasion.]

Sources -
Candleholders from Hobby Lobby
Small hutch from World Market

The fine print: Please link with love! As with all of our posts, DIY projects featured on The Sweetest Occasion may not be copied, distributed or reproduced without express written permission. Love and links are always appreciated! If you’d like to share this post, please link to this post directly for the DIY tutorial and do not include the instructions in your own post. Thanks so much! xoxo


DIY IKEA Rast Hack

An alternate title for this post could quite appropriately be, “What I Did Over the Holiday Break.” Remember a few months back when I was sharing the latest on the homefront with regards to our master bedroom? Welp, you can safely classify that project under works in progress. One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been finding the right bedside tables. Our bed is quite tall with a rather massive headboard. Our room is relatively small and needing for storage in a major way. Most so-called nighstands are too short to be functional next our bed and anything with too large of a footprint automatically gets nixed because we just don’t have the room to spare. Then about a month ago I stumbled upon this post over at Little House Blog and boom. I had my answer. The IKEA Rast chest all gussied up to look both modern and elegant. Done and done.

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

So, truth be told, I pretty much copied Lindsay’s IKEA Rast hack with a few very minor changes in paint and stain colors. That wasn’t my intention. I played around with different color and hardware ideas and then you know what? I opted to not fix something that wasn’t broken. Lindsay’s piece was perfect for our room. The IKEA Rast 3-drawer dressers are a good 27″ tall making them an ideal height for hanging out next to our bed. The depth keeps them from taking up too much floor space, and the the added storage is a huge bonus. Oh, and did I mention the dressers cost just $34 each? Uh, yeah. Needless to say, the price was also beyond perfect.

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

  • IKEA Rast 3-drawer dresser
  • Ring pulls by Lee Valley (51x43mm size in burnished bronze)
  • Benjamin Moore Advance paint in Decorator’s White, high gloss
  • Sherwin William’s Water-Based Acrylic-Alklyd Primer 
  • Minwax stain in Dark Walnut
  • Minwax Polycrylic in Clear Semi-Gloss
  • Howard Feed-n-Wax wood polish
  • Fine sand paper
  • Brushes, rags, etc.

To kick things off, B and I assembled the IKEA Rast dressers while watching a movie one night. We assembled the drawers but kept them off to the side and skipped the knobs. (I’m showing you one here just to give you a feel for what the originals look like.) The dressers come unfinished, but they’re solid wood and quite sturdy. Definitely a bargain for $34! Then I lightly sanded everything down and cleaned everything up with a damp cloth to remove any dust before beginning.

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

For the body of the dressers, I did one coat of stain and then let everything dry completely overnight. I love how the wood grain still shows through, but the walnut gives everything a rich look. For the drawers, I first gave the fronts two coats of primer using a small dense roller like I did with our living room end tables. I followed up with one coat of paint, using the same technique with a brush as with the aforementioned end tables, working hard to not mess too much with it to avoid brush marks. Benjamin Moore’s Advance line is thick like an oil-based paint, which allows it to self-level and give a really smooth finish when dry.

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

After the stain dried over night, I applied two coats of poly, following the instructions on the can and allowing it to dry a few hours between each coat. When all was said and done, I felt like it could use a little bit of something-something so I busted out the Howard Feed-n-Wax, applying it with a soft cloth. The Feed-n-Wax brings a shine and softness to wood that I really like. Usually I apply it liberally, allow it to set for an hour or more and then buff it with a clean cloth. Now the tricky part – I let everything set and dry completely for a good 48 hours before putting the drawers in place and attaching the hardware. Any earlier and you could risk messing up the paint finish so just let things be. Trust me. Speaking from experience over here. Patience is your friend.

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

Slowly but surely the bedroom is coming together! (Keeping in mind these photos are completely unstyled and really just a random collection of things I often keep near my side of the bed like my old cigar box spilling over with necklaces.) We now basically just need lamps and drapes. I wasn’t in love with the original curtains I had picked out, because when they showed up they were much more cream than the white they were called and it just didn’t work with our white bedding. Our current lamps are mismatched and wildly different shapes and scales so they just aren’t working for me, although I’ll reuse them elsewhere I’m sure. Other than that we’re in the home stretch of calling this room a wrap. You know, a bazillion months later. So it goes with home decorating! At least in my world.

IKEA Rast Hack | The Sweetest Occasion

As for a budget breakdown, I’m estimating I have about $160 into the pair, which includes IKEA’s ridiculous shipping costs seeing as though we’re nowhere near a store. I had the paint, stain, and primer on hand from other projects so I am not including that cost here, but if you had to buy all of that new you might be in it for $220 or so for both dressers. (Minus about $45 in shipping if you live close enough to an IKEA to pick them up.) All in all, a serious bargain for solid wood nightstands that are both functional and pretty gorgeous. I’ll take it!

[Photos by Cyd Converse for The Sweetest Occasion.]

Sources -

Dressers from IKEA
Hardware from Lee Valley
Stain, poly and Feed-n-Wax from Home Depot
Paint + primer purchased locally
Bed from Raymour & Flanigan (similar)
Duvet + shams from West Elm
Throw pillow shams c/o Scout Mob
Wool blanket from MacAusland’s Woolen Mill
Quilt from HomeGoods
Lamp from Lowe’s (circa 2003)


Breaking the Mold in 2014

Break the Mold

I promised on Friday that I’d be officially kicking off the New Year today with a few thoughts on the year ahead. And well, it’s time to talk about 2014! I’ve been doing more thinking and brainstorming and daydreaming about the months ahead than I can adequately express in words. Probably too much, if I’m perfectly honest. (Want to know a secret? Overthinking things is a chronic problem for me. I’m working on it.) I founded The Sweetest Occasion over five years ago on a bit of a whim, like most bloggers. It wasn’t about making money, building a career or starting a business. It was about a love for parties and design and, having finished architecture school and then graduate school, needing an outlet for that love. I never dreamed I would be where I am today. I never dreamed I’d be entering my third year of full time self-employment. I never dreamed millions of readers would stumble onto my internet doorstep over the years for a glimpse at the random ramblings inspiring me at the moment. I never dreamed it. I could have never dreamed something this amazing.

If I’m perfectly honest, most of my success and growth has stemmed from the fact that I’ve simply followed my gut. I’ve posted projects and parties and ideas that I love and I’ve been blessed to have readers who love the same things I do. There are all these things they tell you to do if you want to be a successful blogger and, if I’m real with you, I’ve ignored so many of them. Not intentionally. I’ve just been too wrapped up in whatever it is I am loving and wanting to share with you to have put too much thought into setting huge goals for myself or to push myself to really achieve those goals if I have set them. Which is not to say I’m not driven or ambitious. I’m both of those things nearly to a fault. But I also get easily caught up in the beauty around me and it can veer me off course without my even realizing it most times. So this year, I’m putting pen to paper (and words to internet) and committing to myself to see through so many of the ideas I have. And those goals? This year I’m going to chase them to the finish line.

Create Wildly

To that end, I just wanted to give you a little heads up that I may be switching things up a bit around here in the coming months. The heart of The Sweetest Occasion will always be what it has always been, so no fear there. I want to inspire you to live a beautiful life every single day and encourage you to celebrate for no reason at all. To introduce beauty and meaning into everyday occasions while going all out with a bang for those once-in-a-lifetime special occasions, too. To stop and smell the roses. To pick up a paint brush and give something new a try, even if you think you can’t quite pull it off. I’m still sketching and list-writing and formulating my plan of attack on exactly what 2014 is going to look like, but my theme for the year is breaking the mold. Holding onto the old favorites but also thinking outside of the box, trying out new ideas and working to bring you all new content in all new ways.

Along the way, I do hope you’ll tell me what you’re loving and what else you’d like to see. I read every single comment you write (and try to respond to all of them, too) and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to chime in when you see something you love. So speak up! Leave a comment, catch me on Twitter, visit over on Facebook, or drop me an email. I want 2014 to be the best year yet for The Sweetest Occasion…and if I’m honest with you, there’s part of me that needs it to be. (That would be the overly ambitious part…and the part that gets nauseated even thinking about paying taxes as a business owner.) Whatever your goals are for 2014, let’s all break the mold together, ok? I’m cheering you on! xoxo


[Images from The Fresh Exchange.]


A Final Look Back at 2013

I know this is definitely one of those weeks where we’re all feeling a bit introspective and reflective, and I have to admit – I kind of love that about January every year! I find it really refreshing to look back on the year that was while setting a few intentions for the year to come. I’m not huge on resolutions per se, but I do love planning for the year and making goals. In this moment I feel more prepared than ever to tackle the new year and accomplish some of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a while so I’m going to be writing down my goals and creating action plans to make them happen in 2014. Monday I’ll be back in action as usual and kicking things off with a few thoughts on the year ahead. In the meantime, here’s one last toast to 2013!

An Ode to 2013

After spending most of 2011 and 2012 feeling like I was finding myself all over again in my late 20s, 2013 was a banner year. I laughed more. I turned 30. I traveled to new places (like Mexico for the first time and the frozen winter tundra that is North Dakota) while also visiting old favorites (most notably Salt Lake City and New York a half dozen times or more.) I pinched myself time and again as really amazing people (like the folks at Better Homes & Gardens and Every Day with Rachael Ray) thought I was cool enough to interview for their glossy magazines. We made the big decision to move back to our hometown and in doing so got to spend a lot more time with both of our families. Definitely one of the best parts of 2013, by far! In 2013, I also learned some lessons. Most of them on the business front. Most of them good, but a few that were tough pills to swallow. I’m starting 2014 feeling a touch wiser on that front and looking forward to kicking butt and taking names. (Only not literally.) More on that on Monday though!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for another incredible year. I know I say it every year around this time, but I truly could not do what I do if it were not for you. I’m sending you all big hugs and warmest wishes for a joy-filled kick-butt-and-take-names kind of 2014. I’ll see you here on Monday. xoxo

[Photos by Cyd Converse on Instagram.]

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