DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

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DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

The first time I tasted roasted chestnuts I was walking through Manhattan on a cold winter evening with a friend. Having just finished a bit of holiday shopping, we passed by a street vendor with a cart literally wafting the aroma of warm, roasted chestnuts down the block. Turns out, we couldn’t resist picking up a little paper sack of our own to try. Can I tell you a secret? Roasted chestnuts are some kind of amazing! Ever since then I’ve been hooked. My latest collaboration with Air Wick (designed to bring you six holiday DIY ideas) was inspired by Air Wick’s Cinnamon Roasted Chestnuts fragrance, which for me brings back that moment. Standing on a corner in New York, delighting in the taste and smell of those delicious roasted chestnuts. In that spirit, today we’re talking about creating a gorgeous holiday mantel, one filled with the smells and sights of Christmas – lined with golden nutcrackers and accented with chestnuts and pine cones!

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

  • Unfinished wood nutcrackers in various sizes
  • Metallic gold spray paint
  • Fresh chestnuts
  • Assorted holiday decorations (think ornaments, garlands, etc.)

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

Easy is as easy does and today we’re keeping it simple! To start you’ll need a handful of unfinished wood nutcrackers. I opted to go with five nutcrackers for my mantel, three large and two small. (Mine are approximately 10″ and 7″ tall respectively.) Give each of your nutcrackers a gilded finish with a few light coats of metallic gold spray paint. (My favorite is Rust-Oleum Specialty Metallic in Metallic Gold.) Rotate them as you go to ensure even coverage on all sides and in all the nooks and crannies, then allow them to dry completely.

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

Once your nutcrackers are painted and dry, it’s time to start decorating your mantel! (If you don’t have a mantel in your home, this will look great along a sideboard or credenza, too.) To add a bit of texture I first ran a length of burlap fabric from the floral section of Michaels along the mantel, allowing it to fall several feet down either side of the fireplace. Next up, I played with the arrangement of the nutcrackers, opting to keep them toward the middle so they’d be the star of the show. A couple of gold glitter garlands swagged along the front of the mantel gave it just the right bit of shimmer and glam.

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

An easy styling tip for a holiday mantel is to frame everything out with a bit of height on either end. I selected two small pine tree topiaries for either side, topping each of them with a little gold glitter bow that I scored at a local dollar store. Then I nestled the gold leaf pine cone garland that I made last holiday season along the mantel to add an extra touch of texture and fun. Thinking about those roasted chestnuts I love so much, I scattered a handful of chestnuts along the length of the mantel alongside the pine cones. I thought it was the perfect extra touch, giving the look an essence of the warm, wintery scent of roasted chestnuts that was the very inspiration for the mantel decor.

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

As you’re working along, don’t forget you’ll need something hanging above your mantel to bring everything together. I went with a pretty wreath studded with pinecones and holly berries, but you could also use a large mirror, especially if you already have one hanging above your mantel. A pretty glass bowl filled with an assortment of shimmery gold and red ornaments was the crowning touch – just that little extra hint of color and shine that ties all the other elements together. For my mantel, I really wanted to keep the look limited to a combination of metallic gold and rustic elements, an ode to the things that most make me think of Christmas and that night in New York, nibbling on roasted chestnuts with the chill of winter biting at our cheeks. Switch up the colors and elements as you see fit and you really can’t go wrong!

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

DIY Golden Nutcracker + Chestnut Holiday Mantel

And there you have it, friends! A super festive holiday mantel perfect sure to bring the spirit of the holiday season to your home. This is so easy to do – just gather a bunch of pretty holiday decorations to pair with your nutcrackers and chestnuts, and spend an hour or so arranging and tweaking things until you have a look that you love.

[Design + styling by Cyd Converse for The Sweetest Occasion. | Photos by Alice G. Patterson.]

Sources -

Nutcrackers from Hobby Lobby
Mini Christmas trees from Target
Ornaments from Pottery Barn (some are vintage)
Burlap material from Michaels
Gold leaf pine cone garland – DIY tutorial
Confetti garland from Glitter & Grain
Cinnamon Roasted Chestnut fragrance by Air Wick

This post is a collaboration with Air Wick. For more homemade holiday ideas, follow along on Facebook! Read more about our editorial policies.


The Gift Guide: Gifts for Kids + Teens

Eighteen. That’s the number of kids on our Christmas shopping list. I know, I know. It seems crazy, doesn’t it? But add in a whole bunch of nieces and nephews on both sides of the equation and it tallies up to a whole giant gaggle of kids to shop for, ranging in age from just about 15 months to 16 years old. So with this year’s gift guide, I’m bringing you a random assortment of gifts for kids and teens that span the ages. From sparkly makeup brushes for the teens in your life to cuddly stuffed bunnies for those little babes who aren’t yet thinking about what color lip gloss they want to wear to the pep rally at school. I’ve also tried to round up a whole bunch of price points for you, too, because we certainly don’t buy expensive flashy gifts for all eighteen of those kiddos. Sometimes a set of awesome wooden blocks is just the ticket!

The Gift Guide - Gifts for Kids and Teens

Don’t forget to give your girl a follow over at Keep where I’m collecting all of my favorite holiday gift ideas this season. I’ve been adding a bunch of gifts for kids and teens beyond what you see here so you can scope it out for all those kiddos, nieces and nephews in your life. Santa’s job has never been easier!

1: Duck feet book + slipper set, $38 | 2: Modern ABC block set, $19.79 | 3: T-Rex eraser, $8 | 4: Penny skateboard, $100 | 5: Plaid trapper hat, $39.50 | 6: Cam0 notebook, $8.50 | 7: Red heart sparkle earrings, $16 | 8: Blossom pacifier + rattle holder, $16 | 9: Snuggle bunny, $63 | 10: Magic tricks kit, $12.95 | 11: Slumber party graphic tote, $19.99 | 12: Metallic brush set, $40 | 13: Wooden croc toy, $65 | 14: Lemonade t-shirt, $26 | 15: Hello Kitty iPhone case, $34.99 | 16: Jump rope, $18

This post includes affiliate links. Read more about our editorial policies.


24 Merry Days – Win a $200 Holiday Gift Pack from Leif

I’ve mentioned before how much I adore Leif so I’m pretty excited about today. (See said Leif obsession here in this post entirely comprised of some of my favorites from Leif’s pretty accessories and housewares!) Today is my day on the 24 Merry Days calendar and girl has the goods for you! As in, an amazing gift pack full of goodies worth $200 hand selected by Leif just for one of you lucky folks! (Oh man, I’m so jealous right now.) This is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself to a whole bunch of pretty little things this holiday season! But you know what I’d do? I’d totally split everything up and use them as sweet little gifts for some of my favorite ladies. Cha-ching! Consider a whole bunch of your holiday shopping done, friends. Scroll down for the details on how to enter the giveaway and many thanks to Leif for offering up such an amazing gift pack!

24 Merry Days | Leif Giveaway

Oh, but before you get to entering, here’s a rundown of what’s in store for you! A selection from the F. Scott Fitzgerald book collection with a stunning cover designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. A pretty porcelain bank for stashing your loose change. This vibrant tassel bracelet that I absolutely love. A set of party-ready teaspoons perfect for serving up holiday desserts. These cute leather triangle stud earrings. A gorgeous tea towel to add to your collection. (I’m not the only one with a tea towel collection, am I?) And a beautiful wood and pastel frame for those holiday photos you want to relive all year long.

So who’s ready to enter for your chance to win? This year we’re using Rafflecopter to organize each of the 24 Merry Days giveaways! The form below will give you a whole bunch of chances to win now through December 13, 2013 at 11:59PM PST. Note: Unfortunately this giveaway is only open to U.S. readers but stay tuned because Sunday’s giveaway is available for all of you awesome international readers, too. (Woohoo!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

p.s. Don’t miss your chance to enter Nicole’s giveaway yesterday (featuring a whole wall of gorgeous framed art from Artfully Walls) and Brittni’s giveaway being unveiled tomorrow morning. And follow along at 24 Merry Days for a new giveaway each day until Christmas!

[24 Merry Days site design + logo by Gloria Chen.]


A Festive Holiday Brunch Menu

Have I mentioned how much I love brunch? It’s kind of the most perfect meal in the whole entire universe if you ask me. There’s something about waking up late, lounging over coffee and then chowing down on delicious food. Add in a gaggle of friends and an abundance of good conversation and you’ve got an awesome day made with just one meal. And the holiday season? It practically begs for hosting brunch. Whether it be for house guests the morning after a holiday party or just as a good excuse to spend time with friends during what can turn into a hectic month,  AndreaSamantha and Jade and Matthew have your menu covered. From the make your own Bloody Mary bar to the perfect French toast. Done and done.

Southern Portuguese Baked Egg with Polenta Cakes

Southern Portuguese Baked Egg with Polenta Cakes

Southern Portuguese Baked Egg with Polenta Cakes

by Matthew McCully

For the polenta cakes -

Prepare as directed on polenta package.  Once polenta is cooked, but still hot, mix in 1/2 cup of finely chopped basil and 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh grated parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. Then pour mixture into rimmed backing sheet lined with parchment. Chill.

For Southern inspired sauce -

  • 1 package of ground breakfast sausage
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 jalapeño – sliced lengthwise but left whole with seeds intact
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 5-6 ripe tomatoes
  • 15-20 whole pieces of okra chopped with stems discarded
  • 1/2 cup basil
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • Freshly grated parmesan
  • 6 eggs

In a sauce pan or dutch oven over medium high heat cook sausage until its thoroughly browned. Drain sausage and set aside reserving 2 tablespoons of drippings. Over medium heat cook onions in drippings until softened. Add chopped garlic and continue cooking until fragrant. Add in tomatoes, jalapeño, okra, half of the fresh basil, sausage, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender and sauce begins to thicken, 20-30 minutes. Remove jalapeño and discard. Add in remaining basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400°. Place sauce mixture in 9×13 baking dish. Make six indentions evenly spaced into sauce. Place a heaping tablespoon of ricotta into each indention. Gently crack 1 egg over each indention. Top with a handful of grated parmesan. Bake until whites are just set. 15-18 minutes. While eggs are baking heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Cut prepared polenta into 6 equal size portions. Cook polenta cakes until brown on each side and heated through, about 8-10 minutes flipping halfway through. Place polenta cakes in dish first topping each with one of the eggs and sauce mixture. Top with a little fresh grated parmesan and chopped basil.

French Toast with Caramelized Apples

French Toast with Caramelized Apples French Toast with Caramelized Apples

French Toast with Caramelized Apples

by Samantha Sanford

  • 10 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 loaf farm/country bread, cut 1 1/4-inch thick to yield 4–6 slices
  • Butter

Preheat oven to 500°. In a bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and salt until well blended, add nutmeg, cream, and milk. Soak bread in egg mixture for 15 to 20 minutes in a deep, wide baking dish so bread is fully submerged. Drain bread in a perforated sheet pan or pastry cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. In an oven-safe, nonstick sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Place soaked slices in pan, and let brown slightly on one side. This will help it set. Flip the bread, and place the pan in the oven for 4–5 minutes. Remove from the oven, and flip bread to the other, pan-seared side. Place in the oven, and cook until brown, another 4–5 minutes. Flip one last time, and again place in the oven for about 4 minutes. Serve with butter, maple syrup, and 
caramelized apples for the perfect holiday brunch!

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 5 apples (A mix of Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples is delicious!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup apple cider
  • A pinch of salt

Peel and cut apples into cubes. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and 1tbsp sugar. Cook until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the rest of the sugar, cinnamon and lemon, stir and cook for another two minutes or until apples are caramelized. Transfer apples into a bowl using a slotted spoon. Turn the heat to high and add the apple cider to the skillet, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Pour the finished sauce over apples and stir, serve warm.

Deviled Eggs - Two Ways

Deviled Eggs - Two Ways Deviled Eggs - Two Ways

by Andrea Harper

Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs

  • 6 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 pieces cooked bacon, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons jarred or fresh pimientos, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Paprika and thyme to garnish

Scoop the yolks out from the eggs into a bowl and mash until smooth. Stir in the bacon, mayonnaise, garlic, cheddar cheese, pimientos, and cayenne. Add salt and pepper to taste. Scoop or pipe mixture into halved eggs and sprinkle with paprika and thyme.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

  • 6 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for garnish
  • 4 ounces good smoked salmon, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons capers

Scoop the yolks into a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and arrange the whites on a platter in a single layer with the cut sides up and sprinkle with salt. To the egg yolks, add the sour cream cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, salmon, salt, and pepper. Beat on medium speed until fluffy. Scoop or pipe the mixture to fill the egg whites with the egg yolk mixture. Garnish with the extra chopped chives. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

[Styling by Andrea Harper of Gray Harper Event Maker | Photos by Jade + Matthew Take Pictures.]


10 Best DIY Christmas Ornaments

10 DIY Christmas Ornaments

Last night we finally got around to decorating our tree, which we cut down this past weekend on our trip to the Christmas tree farm. I dug through boxes of ornaments and baubles, unwrapping each of them in turn while the boys scrambled to find the perfect perch on the tree for each one. Of course we couldn’t skip out on hanging the gingerbread ornaments we made over the weekend. Homemade ornaments are my favorite! My mom always busted out the glue gun and pipe cleaners with us kids every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas so we could craft cheerful lopsided ornaments. To this day, making ornaments is still one of my favorite things to do in preparing for the holidays.

Whether it be with a touch of gold leaf or a flurry of colorful felt, homemade ornaments are just the best. To inspire your holiday crafting, click through for my picks for 10 of the best DIY Christmas ornaments!