It Takes Guts to Throw a Kidney Party

Jim and Carole Wal­lace celebrate another year of life

Jim and Carole Wallace offer some steak-and-kidney pie at the 2009 Kidney Party.
Jim and Carole Wallace offer some steak-and-kidney pie at the 2009 Kidney Party.
Photo by MM Pack

Jim and Carole Wallace's annual holiday bash is partly about gratitude, partly about sympathetic magic, partly about pitching a wang dang doodle with gustatory glee. And it all began with a kidney.

Each Dec. 8, the Wallaces host a party to commemorate Jim's successful kidney transplant 13 years ago. The tradition began on the first anniversary of the operation – they wanted to celebrate Jim's new lease on life and thank friends for their help and support during the recuperation period. Since then, the Kidney Party has become a much anticipated annual event attended by as many as 200 people. "We never know exactly how many to expect," says Carole. So they just keep cooking until it's time to stop, and there's always plenty of food and drink.

The 12th celebration took place at the Wallaces' Cedar Park home filled with good cheer and fine handmade furniture (Jim is a furniture designer and historian with a degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art). Guests – from babies to grandmas – include neighbors, fellow woodworkers, ballroom dancers (Carole is a serious competitive dancer), church friends from St. Luke's on the Lake, and out-of-town friends and relations. Actor, singer, and jewelrymaker Hink Johnson was resplendent in full Swedish St. Nicholas regalia, complete with mitre and crosier.

At first glance, the laden food tables appear to offer typical holiday-party fare. But amongst the classic deviled eggs, spinach dip, and Christmas cookies, the real theme soon emerges. It's a Kidney Party, folks, a culinary orgy of organs that features steak-and-kidney pie, liverwurst, kidney beans, pea soup, Andean-style grilled beef heart, sliced calves' tongues with horseradish sauce, liver and onions, rumaki (grilled Tiki-bar skewers of bacon-wrapped chicken livers and water chestnuts), salads with hearts of palm and artichoke hearts. It's all beautifully prepared and presented and judiciously labeled to alert the timid. (There are also plenty of vegan and gluten-free offerings.)

Carole is of German lineage and grew up enjoying offal. "From the first party, organ meat just seemed like the appropriate thing to serve," says Jim, smiling. They get new ideas for dishes every year; Carole's thinking about a chicken gizzard recipe next time. Can menudo be far behind? Haggis? Boudin? Headcheese?

Word is out about the Wallaces' Kidney Party; it was featured in the 2009 book Hidden Kitchens Texas by Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, the Kitchen Sisters of National Public Radio fame. The party recently was mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article about the Kitchen Sisters and holiday food traditions.

Surrounded by friends, family, and good food, Jim and Carole Wal­lace have much to smile about at the party that "celebrates another year of life." Guest Linda Fryer adds: "This is a commemoration of the person who donated that kidney, too. We don't know who it was, but we think about them as well." This might remind us all to consider a living will that specifies organ donation, a potential gift of life.

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