A divine madman

Soundtrack for your lunch today: Dick in a (Crop)box

The first time we met Victoria Koblenko for lunch, we spent a good majority of it talking about dicks.

It's not exactly what you'd expect to discuss when you first meet her. She's a famous actress, presenter and columnist, beautiful and slight, with porcelain skin and a fashionable mole a-la Cindy Crawford. But what we love about this Edible Stories project and the people that we've come in contact with because of it, is that it's a daily reminder that no one is just a pretty face. There is so much more to devour about someone than what we might initially think. People have stories, past and present, that open up the world to you in impossible ways. 

Victoria was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the Netherlands with her family shortly after the collapse of the bloc. Though she is from the area that is now Ukraine, she grew up Russian, never identifying with Ukraine as her home.

"Although I don't have that national feeling of being Ukrainian, technically the place where I was born is called Ukraine. So that makes my descent a little complicated. My understanding of where we come from and our roots is a little mixed up in this case," she says.

She is now unmistakably Dutch, having captured the attention of her countrymen as Isabella on Goede tijden, slechte tijden, the longest-running Dutch soap opera, along with countless other acting and presenting roles. She also still works in her native-tongue, taking projects from Russia as a way to stay connected to her roots.

So while a conversation about penises isn't necessarily the first thing you'd think of when having lunch with a Ukrainian-Dutch movie star, that's nevertheless what happened and it's the topic of today's Edible Story. 

We're going to use Victoria - bold, outspoken Victoria, with all her travels and experiences and stories - to illuminate a piece of the world you might otherwise never see and discuss a topic that might otherwise be taboo.

An avid traveler, Victoria has been all over the world, experiencing countries and cultures some of us (we won't name names) had never even heard of. The story of the dicks brings us to Bhutan - a small, landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas, bordered by China in the north and India in the south - where Victoria recently visited.

Drupka Kunley, a 15th century Buddhist monk known as the "Divine Madman," is credited for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan and, despite (or perhaps because of) his outrageous antics, is known as the patron saint on the country.

He spent his long life in a state of bacchanal and perpetual rebellion against convention, even that of his chosen religion of Buddhism - choosing instead to believe that the path to enlightenment was through surprise and humor (not to mention alcohol, sex and mischievousness). Using his "magic thunderbolt" to shock his subjects away from life's distractions, he claimed to bring many people to enlightenment.

... Outwardly I’m a fool

and inwardly I live with a clear spiritual system.

Outwardly, I enjoy wine, women and song.

And inwardly I work for the benefit of all beings.

Outwardly, I live for my pleasure

and inwardly I do everything in the right moment.

Outwardly I am a ragged beggar

and inwardly a blissful Buddha.
— Drunpa Kunley

That magic thunderbolt, detailed and erect, is now lovingly painted on the walls of many homes throughout Bhutan as a symbol of enlightenment and protection against hostile spirits.

Perhaps in some way, it's also stands as a talisman against convention and societal norms, the phallus itself a shock for many Western visitors who misunderstand and underestimate its meaning.

It appears, bold and in your face, and challenges the idea of propriety and prudishness towards the natural human body. It even challenges the idea of art... for what is art if not these beautifully precise cocks, painted with purpose, reverence and hidden meaning?

The world is large and information abounds. But the beauty of connecting with one another is that we have the incredible luxury of sharing our experiences with our fellow man and woman, strengthening the links of humanity. We have Victoria to thank for bringing this new knowledge into our lives.

When she came into our kitchen for lunch, her bold spirit and exotic tales of far-off lands arrested our attentions immediately. Without any of us realizing it, she linked us across centuries to a divine madman and across oceans to a community of Bhutanese people who opened our eyes to a new way of thinking about things. And that is nothing short of enlightenment.

In the box today:

Hairy borscht ya balls: Ukrainian-style slow braised beetroots in housemade spiced stock

Topped with almonds, dill and leek sprouts

Buckwheat pancake pole stuffed with Bhutanese-style ema datshi (potato, mushroom, white asparagus, charred green chili and cashew cheese

Creamy dressing