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Orkney dumplings and more: the edible seaweeds of Stromness

Dumplings, Orkney Style
Dumplings, Orkney Style


In July 2018 we spent 2 weeks in Stromness, Orkney, in a house close to the southern tip of the mainland, known as Ness Point.
We used the opportunity to see what species of seaweeds we would be able to find on the coast there.

Good advice by Mark Williams  helped us choose the right times and tides for our excursions.
Also, note his points on how to harvest seaweed responsibly

  • Never pull, always cut.
  • Take just the upper one third.
  • Never take rare species. Check what they are!
  • Spread your picking. Don’t take all from one spot.
  • And, let me add, take any trash and plastic you find on the beach with you, too.


We walked the rocky coast from Ness Point, by the little white lighthouse, below the golf course and up to Warbeth beach, past the Stromness cemetery.

The lighthouse
The lighthouse
Map: The coast at Ness Point
Map: The coast at Ness Point


The upper tidal zone of the rocks is largely dominated by Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), and a mix of other wracks, such as Toothed Wrack (Fucus Serratus), with light green spots of Gutweed (Ulva intestinalis) strewn in.

Coastline at NessPoint - with lots of Bladderwrack
Coastline at NessPoint – with lots of Bladderwrack

In some places, large pools of rotting wrack produce quite a stench … and, don’t walk into those (like i did once, by accident, with sneakers on .. they smell of rotten seaweed to this day …) …. Small birds however love those nutrient pools, as they likely find insects or such there.

Rotting pool
Rotting pool


You will also find a lot of torn off pieces of Kelp (Laminaria digitata) and leaves of Sugar Kelp, Saccharina latissima.
Smaller patches of Osmundea pinnatifada are found on rocks from high to lower tidal zones.

It gets more diverse and interesting as you go down, where you will find Sea Spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata,
and Dulse, Palmaria palmata.




Bladderwrack, Fucus vesiculosus


Bladderwrack is known to be a valuable source of oils and ingredients for cosmetics, perfumes, and so forth. Essential oil made from this wrack retails for about $15 for a milliliter, or £15000 for a liter.
It is really good for the skin – just try pop one of these little bubbles and spread the juice on your skin!

While it does not taste bad and can absolutely be used as a somewhat salty spicy addition to salads and fried meals, it was not exactly our favorite among the seaweeds.








Gutweed, Ulva intestinalis

The worst part of Gutweed in foods is the fact that it just loves to keep sand in its fine hairy light green leaves – you will have to rinse it thoroughly and repeatedly, and again, and then some – unless you want to chew sand.
But once its rinsed, it makes a wonderful salad or, dried and fried, a crispy snack.

Gutweed patch on rock
Gutweed patch on rock
Gutweed and wrack
Gutweed and wrack
Salad of Gutweed and some Bladderwrack


Kelp, Laminaria digitata

Kelp was once the center of big industry in Orkney, from the early 18th to the early 19th century.
Kelp would be collected, burned and sold as fertilizer, and source of potash and soda.
You can read more about it here:
Kelp Burning in Orkney

Kelp-making - a book at the Library
Kelp-making – a book at the Library
Kelp production in the 18th century
Kelp production in the 18th century

At Ness Point, you will find a lot of kelp washed ashore, but if you look to harvest some for food, go futher down on the rocks, and cut the tips (only!) of some of the plants still sitting on the rocks.

Kelp stems washed ashore
Kelp stems washed ashore

Under the name Kombu, Kelp is a common ingredient in asian cuisines, and the leaves we found in Orkney, are of very good quality and taste.
Our favorite way of preparing them is to use dried sheets, soak them in warm water for a bit, and then use them in miso style soups, as filling for dumplings where they blend nicely with shrimps or meat, or use them as vegetables in noodle or rice dishes. Kelp also adds a nice salty taste to bread.

Kelp Bread
Nordic Bread with Kelp


Sea spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata

Well, it looks like spaghetti, just greener.

Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti - with its typical hold-fasts
Sea spaghetti – with its typical hold-fasts

You will often find it together with kelp, in the lower tidal zones, where it sits on rocks, clinging to them with its very characteristic button-shaped hold-fasts.

It looks like spaghetti, and you can eat it like spaghetti: boil it for 15 – 20 minutes, keep the water which will have turned somewhat green and quite intense in taste. Use it to season your dishes, or to boil pasta in.
We love blending sea spaghetti with pasta, adding a little cream or soya milk, making a beautiful green and white mixed dish.
We also got the advice to boil sea spaghetti in milk, but we have yet to try this.

Dulse, Palmaria palmata

Our absolute favorite, the star of all the seaweeds, vegan bacon! Dulse!

It is a bit harder to find – look out for relatively small (10, 12 inch) red-brownish leaves with very characteristic finger-shaped tips.
Again, make sure you only cut a sensible amount – never take the whole plant.

Fried dulse
Fried dulse
Fresh dulse (the red leaves)
Fresh dulse (the red leaves)
Making white pizza with vegan bacon (dulse)
Making white pizza with vegan bacon (dulse)

You can use these fresh or dried. The wonderful umami flavor, very close to “real” bacon is strongest when you fry fresh or dried leaves in butter.

ID problems for danish nationalism

Yes, problems for, not with danish nationalism.

There is an interesting new book* which looks at the way
the Viking myth was constructed in the 19th century, at a time when danish nationalists urgently needed some kind of alleged history to bolster up danish self esteem – thus,  what originally was little more than a job title (Viking) had to become a race, a nation even – and of course a somewhat superior one.

There is, however, a problem with this attempt at Viking-Danish identification.

As is widely known, the birth hour of Danmark, the creation of Danmark as a nation state, is marked by the oldest written documents (stones, that is) we have about this, The Jelling Stones.
They also mark the conversion of Denmark from Norse paganism to Christianity.

The irony here is that Danmark succumbing to the foreign Christian rulers actually marked the (beginning of the) end of Northern greatness and dominance – an act of economically driven opportunism and, arguably, cowardice.
The time of northern greatness was not danish, the time of northern danishness was/is not all that great.

Christianization of the Nordics – here, Orkney – From the Orkneyinga Saga

(I remember the danish national tv’s series on danish history (“Historien om Danmark”) constantly battling with this, too – they kept talking about “danish” people and regions at a time when there was no such thing as Danmark.
Even the Egtved Girl (c. 1390–1370 BC), a Nordic Bronze Age girl (and an immigrant from Germany [sic], btw) was labeled “danish”.)

So, modern danish nationalism, claiming to be firmly rooted in Christianity, and Viking pride have a really hard time walking hand in hand.

This is a friction painfully felt when right-wing nationalist Danish People’s Party politicians both try to discriminate against Muslim danes (because, we are Christians here!), write christianity into the governement programme, and at the same time try to snuggle up to Viking renaissance and Asatro (the same Asatro that was sidelined, if not killed, by the Christian conquest).
You somehow can’t have both. 



  • Anders Lundt Hansen: Sølv, blod og kongemagt – Bag om vikingemyten. Udgivet af Gyldendal. Udkommer 28. maj.

The strange wild garlic at the Botanical Gardens Copenhagen

[Scroll down for english]

Der findes Allium planter i store dele af Botanisk Have i København.
Det er Allium paradoxum, Spøjsløg, som er yderst invasivt og har spredt sig fra en enkelt krukke / jordstykke.
Spøjsløg er spiseligt og dufter/lugter tydeligt af hvidløg.

[Resten på engelsk]

In early April, on a visit to the Botanical Garden Copenhagen,
we noticed large patches of an Allium plant slightly resembling wild garlic (A. ursinum),
and sharing with that the distinct scent of garlic –
strong enough to be noticeable when walking the paths inbetween the patches of the plants.
It fills large parts of the garden, and at the northern entry to the garden, starts spreading out of the garden, through the fences.
It has also conquered the lake shores.
The plant’s leaves are a lot more narrow and elegant than those of A. ursinum,
and the flowers appear much earlier (early April) and more prominent.

A gardener (thank you!) explained to us:

It is Allium paradoxum, first introduced to the garden from Central Asia / Russia,
on only a small patch of land,
which has aggressively invaded large parts of the gardens,
effectively displacing many other species, like Anemona.
Allium paradoxum, the few-flowered garlic or few-flowered leek – Danish: Spøjsløg (the “funny” onion), german: Wunderlauch – is an Asian species of wild onion in the Amaryllis family.
It is native to mountainous regions of Iran, Caucasus, and Turkmenistan.

All parts of the plant are edible (and indeed very tasty and healthy, much like wild garlic – great for pesto, soups, creams).
You are not allowed to harvest plants from the Botanical Gardens, but you will find the plant other places, e.g. at Amager Fælled.
Maybe though, it could be a great idea for the Botanical Gardens, to invite the public to a big harvesting day, in order to combat the further spreading of the invader?

The Wrong I / Comments on Artifical Intelligence. Part 1: Changing the Game

In our quest to make machines as intelligent as or more intelligent than humans,
the first step is to change and reduce the definition of intelligence so that it fits machines rather than humans.



A definition of intelligence is of course difficult if not impossible to agree on.

Wikipedia offers this general consense:

“one’s capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity and problem solving. It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context.”

We push our definition towards the data centric, dropping aspects of intelligence such as

emotional intelligence, social intelligence, poetic intelligence, musical intelligence and, alas,
machines look very intelligent.

Not only do we change the definition of intelligence –
the project is bigger than this:

we change our human realities so that they become machine processable.

‘We think we’re making the robots in our image, but perhaps they’re making us in theirs.’ Alexa O’Brien


Our games become machine games,
our exchange unit, money, once coupled to goods and services and meaning, becomes a mere machine construct, created and annihilated by machines.



And, then – oh surprise! –

AI beats human in computer games.

AI beats human in predicting insurance customers.

AI beats human GO masters.

All of these victories are trivial, data centric, mere consequences of size and speed.

We have changed the playing field so that our favorite may win.
Repeat the distortion often enough and we might even believe in this new intelligence.

Meanwhile, our strongest AIs can not even go down to the corner store and buy a bread.

There is no Virtual Reality.

There is no such thing as Virtual Reality.
There is only Real Reality.

Your headset is real,
the pixels you are looking at are real,
real photons emitted by real LEDs.

What you are seeing is controlled by real software
written by real people or machines.
The machines are built from real metals and minerals,

mined from real mines.


Your pizza and coke are real.
Your dehydration will also be real,
as will be your tiredness.
You will fall down on a real floor.


There is no such thing as Virtual Reality.
There is only Real Reality and Real Virtuality.