My Valentine birthday is today and I always get a little nostalgic this time of year. You see, growing up, my mom made birthdays a big deal. Like, a really, big deal. Of the seven of us kids, three were born on holidays. I was first on Valentine's Day, Jeff was next on Easter, and Brian rounded out the three-holiday babies 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 would.

My birthday week celebration always started in the kitchen with me and my mom making 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 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. To this day, people I went to school with mention 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.

Traci Taylor

The day of my birthday, I’d wake to the smell of pancakes, but not any old pancakes- these were pink or red heart shaped ones. I’d walk out the door to go to school and be greeted by my birthday sign. My mom found a huge roll of butcher paper at a garage sale and used it (for many, many years) to make handmade signs that she’d hang from the front porch so anyone going by our house would know it was someone’s birthday. I can’t even imagine how she found the time to draw and color everything by hand big enough that it could be seen by the whole neighborhood, but she did. I wish I could remember all of the messages she wrote on that butcher paper 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.

I can’t remember one year when it didn’t snow on my birthday, but I can remember as a special birthday treat, a 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 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 fun!

My mom faced a challenge when it came to my birthday cake. I don’t like cake. At all. And, I don’t care for chocolate. I'm also not a big fan of icing. So, mom had to get creative. I LOVE cookies and cream ice cream which pretty much makes no sense because I'm not a chocolate fan, but my love of cookies and cream meant that 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. 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]