Friday, January 21, 2011

Sweet Birthday Memories

My birthday is coming up and I always get a little nostalgic this time of year. My mom made birthdays big. When I say big, I mean BIG! Of the 7 of us kids, 3 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. Mom didn't want our birthdays to get lost in the excitement of the other holidays, so she did things on a much grander scale than most moms.

My birthday week celebration started in the kitchen with me and my mom making huge heart shaped sugar cookies that were decorated in white icing and then very carefully, we’d write out the names of each of my classmates in pink icing. They were taken to school and passed around- a tradition carried on long after the days of elementary school snack sharing. Then the decorations would go up. I never saw mom decorate. I’d wake up and there would be red hearts strung all over the downstairs.

The day of my birthday, I’d wake to the smell of pancakes, but not any old pancakes- pink heart shaped ones. I’d walk out the door to go to school and be greeted by my birthday sign. Mom found a huge roll of butcher paper at a garage sale and used it to make handmade signs that she’s 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. And 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 mom drove me to school instead of me walking. 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 had to stand in a line with our heads tilted back and mouths open. Mom would walk down the line and fill out mouths with canned whipped cream. She never got mad if it spilled out onto our clothes or the carpet. She just laughed as she wiped it up. I remember my 16th birthday after doing the whipped cream thing; all my friends went outside and had a snowball fight. Whipped cream and snow don’t smell so great, but it was fun!

Mom had a challenge when it came to my birthday cake. I don’t like cake. And I don’t care for chocolate. And I’m not a big fan of icing. So she had to get creative. I LOVE cookies and cream ice cream and mom found the perfect cake for me. It’s the one thing as an adult that I’ve missed the very most about my birthday- the special cake mom made me every year from as far back as I can remember to the day I moved away from home. And so, I now share with you the recipe for the cake that holds so many special memories for me:

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.

On a serving plate, arrange seven cookies in a circle, with one in the center. Spread the cookies with half a cup of the whipped cream. It should be at least a quarter inch thick between the layers. Repeat until you get to about four or five inches high, finishing with a layer of cream. Do a little decorative stack on the top if you like.

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.

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