My Valentine birthday is coming up and I always get a little nostalgic this time of year. Growing up, my mom made birthdays a big deal. Like, a really, really big deal. There are seven of us kids and three of us were born on a holiday. I was first on Valentine's Day, Jeff was next on Easter, and Brian rounded out the three-holiday baby birthdays by being born on Christmas day. Our mom didn't want our special days to get lost in the excitement of the other holidays and so she did things on a much grander scale than most parents.

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As a kid, my birthday week celebration always started in the kitchen with me and my mom working together to make giant heart-shaped sugar cookies which were decorated with white icing and then very carefully, my mom would write out the name of each of my classmates in pale pink icing. I would take the cookies to school and pass them out- a tradition carried on long after the days of elementary school snack sharing. Even now, over 20 years since I graduated from High School, former classmates still reach out to tell me that whenever they see giant heart-shaped cookies, they think of me.

After the cookies were made, the decorations would go up. Here's the thing though- I never saw my mom decorate. I'd wake up in the morning and there would be decorations and balloons everywhere. My mom picked up a cheap roll of butcher paper at a garage sale and she used to unroll it and would write a special birthday message and then hang it from the pillars of our front porch for the entire world to see. We were never embarrassed by the ginormous signs, we were proud.

I can’t even imagine how my mom found the time to draw and color everything by hand on the butcher paper, big enough that it could be seen by the whole neighborhood, but she did. I wish I could remember each of the messages she wrote over the years, but I can’t. However, I do remember one year the sign said something like “Happy birthday to my Valentine baby, Love, Mom.” I always looked forward to walking out the front door to see what message was posted on my birthday sign. My friends and the people in our neighborhood got a kick out of it too.

Traci Taylor

The day of my birthday, I’d wake to the smell of pancakes, but not just any pancakes, mine were pink or red and most definitely heart-shaped ones. I can’t remember a single year that it didn't snow on my birthday, but I can remember as a special birthday treat, the few times my mom drove me to school instead of making me walk.

We always had a family birthday party that included lots of games and singing and dancing and giggling. Somewhere along the line, my mom got the idea to start the birthday whipped cream tradition. Anyone who was over at my house on a birthday had to stand in a line with their head tilted back and mouth open. Mom would walk down the line and fill our mouths with canned whipped cream. I'll never forget my 16th birthday- after doing the whipped cream thing; all of my friends went outside and had a snowball fight. Whipped cream and snow don’t smell so great together, but it was still so much fun!

My mom faced a challenge when it came to my birthday cake. I don’t like cake. Not even a little bit.  And, I don’t love chocolate. I'm also not a big fan of icing. I know what you're thinking and it's probably exactly what my mom thought, I mean, I was always the difficult child...

Mom had to get creative when it came to my cake and since I LOVE cookies and cream ice cream, my mom had the perfect cake for me. Even now as an adult, this cake is the one thing I look forward to every year- the single birthday tradition from my childhood that has been a constant in my life for the two decades since I moved away from home and one that my husband now makes for me. And so, I give you the recipe for the cake that holds so many sweet memories for me.

Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake

  • 2-3 packages of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Or, you can just use thawed whipped cream from the freezer section of the grocery store. Honestly, I prefer that to homemade whipped cream but there are definitely people who will fight me on that.

Place a chocolate wafer on a platter and drop a rounded teaspoon of whipped cream onto the center of the wafer. Use the back of a spoon or your finger to pat the mound of whipped cream into the cookie. Gently press another wafer on top of the whipped cream until the whipped topping is flush with the edges. Continue until you’ve stacked 6 cookies to make one “mini” cake.

Traci Taylor

Ice the stacked cookies with whipped topping as you would ice a cake. Repeat the process with the remaining chocolate wafers in the box.

Traci Taylor

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four to six hours. Dust with cocoa powder or crumble leftover wafers and top cake with them before serving.

Traci Taylor

[via Rachel Ray]