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Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007 06:36 am

Fighting Illini vs. Cabbage Patch Kids

Rose Bowl brings back memories of 1984 excitement and parties

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Untitled Document After years of ignominious obscurity, the University of Illinois football team was going to the 1984 Rose Bowl! For my husband, Peter, and me, the timing was perfect. Neither of us had ever been a big football fan. During our tenure at the university’s Champaign-Urbana campus, we hadn’t gone to a single game. Times change, though. Early in his dental practice, Peter did his own lab work (he still does), and normally a small television was his only company. Watching Illini games became a weekly high point. By the early ’80s we were not only attending home games but also traveling to as many away games as possible. By late fall it looked as though the Illini would be going to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 20 years. Illini fans everywhere were in a fever of excitement. The only thing equaling it was the national Cabbage Patch Kid craze. In 1976, Xavier Roberts, an art student from Cleveland, Ga., began experimenting with German techniques for fabric sculpture moldings, combining them with his mother’s quilting skills. As much entrepreneur as artist, he created dolls with not only individual faces but also individual personalities and backgrounds. In 1978 he opened the BabyLand General Hospital, a kitschy yet charming facility where the “kids” could be adopted. By 1983, Cabbage Patch Kid mania had reached its peak. The year before, a major toy manufacturer had been licensed to reproduce Cabbage Patch Kids en masse with plastic heads and in a smaller size, although each still purportedly came with a unique name and birth certificate. They’d become the most successful doll in the toy industry and made the December cover of Newsweek. Even so, there weren’t enough to meet demand. People camped out all night in front of stores that advertised a new shipment of Cabbage Patch Kids — and that was for the mass-produced dolls. The hand-stitched models still being made at BabyLand General were fervently sought after and were being resold for astronomical prices. Peter and I had no worries on either count. We hadn’t been going to games long enough to guarantee Rose Bowl tickets, but an older local dentist, a longtime fan and generous Illini supporter, had been told that he’d get 50 seats in Pasadena. We were numbers 45 and 46 on the list. I had relatives in LA, and my folks would take care of our kids: It was a done deal. The Cabbage Patch Kids were a done deal, too. That fall my parents had detoured to Cleveland, Ga., on their way home from Florida and picked up two genuine handmade Cabbage Patch Kids for our children’s Christmas. Anne, 8, and Robb, 4, would be the envy of all their friends — and even some of their parents. Then disaster struck. Our dentist friend was only able to get 20 tickets. My aunt, who lives near Pasadena and had influential friends, tried to get us tickets, to no avail. We called everybody we knew who might have an in. No luck. We were desperate. We had plans and plane reservations. What we didn’t have were game tickets. Then Peter was seized with inspiration: What we did have were two Cabbage Patch Kids being fought over by hordes of people. Was it so impossible that someone with Rose Bowl tickets would want to exchange them for Cabbage Patch Kids? My folks went to Florida yearly; they could get two more next fall. My parents were dubious but eventually persuaded that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was dubious, too, but willing to go along with Peter’s idea to put an ad in the Chicago Tribune: “Will exchange two genuine hand-signed Cabbage Patch Kids for two Rose Bowl tickets. . . . ”
We went to Chicago every December with our children to eat breakfast under the tree at Marshall Field’s Walnut Room, shop, and take advantage of Chicago’s seasonal offerings. Unfortunately, after breakfast under the tree that year, our kids started sneezing and coughing. We abandoned our plans, ordered room service, and spent the evening in our hotel room. Flipping through TV channels for something to amuse our sick kids, we froze on a WGN newscast: “And now, Rose Bowl Fever and Cabbage Patch Kid Mania: Which will win? The hype has reached new levels. Someone’s even trying to exchange two original Cabbage Patch Kids for two Rose Bowl tickets  . . .” The newscaster went on, but we didn’t hear him: Our eyes were glued to the screen, which showed a blowup of our little ad. We quickly distracted the kids so they didn’t see the phone number. No one took advantage of our offer, but, in hindsight, it’s probably just as well. Our kids were thrilled with their Cabbage Patch Dolls, but the Illini were humiliated by UCLA 45-9. “When the game was over with, I thought we were at a funeral,” said Perry Carlini, who’d played center. “I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It was a horrible embarrassment.”
Thank goodness we hadn’t blown our budget to experience it firsthand. Instead, we threw a big fun party — or, at least, it was fun in the beginning. I made a chocolate mousse cake, shaped and decorated like a football, and a bunch of other goodies. The showstopper was, as always, my Illini devilled eggs. We’ll be having a party at home for this year’s Rose Bowl, too, hoping that the Illini can pull it off this time. I haven’t figured out the menu yet; the only thing I know for sure is that it’ll include those devilled eggs. Go Illini!

Contact Julianne at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
Almost everybody loves devilled eggs — they’re one of the most popular items on any potluck or buffet table — and I can guarantee, from long experience, that these Illini eggs will be the biggest hit, the most-noticed, the most-talked-about item on any Illini party table, Rose Bowl or otherwise.

ILLINI DEVILLED EGGS
Hardboiled eggs, shelled Mayonnaise Dijon mustard Cider vinegar Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white    pepper to taste Paprika, preferably Hungarian Blue food coloring Red food coloring, optional
Fill a large jar or bowl about two-thirds full of cold water. Add enough blue food coloring to turn the water dark blue. Halve the eggs lengthwise, then gently remove the yolks and set them aside. Remove any yolk that clings to the edges or outside with the corner of a damp paper towel. Discard any torn or broken egg whites, but add their yolks to the others. Gently slide the halved whites into the container of colored water. Let them stand for at least one hour or cover and refrigerate them overnight. The color will deepen the longer the whites are in the solution. Purée the yolks in the food processor or mash them with a fork. Add mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. The term “devilled” implies a degree of spiciness; however, the amounts depend on your personal taste. Do start with just a tablespoon or so of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of mustard, and the same with the vinegar. You want to create a smooth, creamy mixture that’s not too loose. It’s much easier to add additional seasonings than it is to correct a mixture that is too runny or spicy. Add a little paprika at a time until the mixture is orange. If your yolks are very pale, you might want to add a drop or two of red food coloring rather than too much paprika. Beware of adding too much red coloring, though; it can affect the taste. Refrigerate the yolk mixture if you’re not using it immediately. Gently remove the whites from the jars and tip out any liquid remaining in the cavities. Turn them upside down on paper towels for 15 to 30 minutes or until they are completely drained. Place the dyed egg-white halves cut side up on a platter large enough to hold them comfortably in one layer. Fill the cavities with the yolk mixture.
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