Sea Glass

My favorite meditation centers on the search for sea glass on an empty beach. I gravitate towards patterns—hence my love for azulejos. My eyes seek the special glint of wet glass on the sand.

It took three and a half years to come to the handful of days we had in January when the glass hidden deep in our town’s beach was uncovered—ledges of sand shearing off into the waves exposing layers of the heavier glass underneath. Now these strips of sparkly bits have been buried again by the sand, and only the lighter plastic bits “float” on top of the crust left by the wind and the tides. We gathered all that we could on those few days, knowing they wouldn’t last.

I walk slowly along the curved line of debris left by a succession of waves, each footstep measuring a new place to look for that moment of light, those particular colors in which sea glass most commonly appears. The greens, whites, and browns are most likely to turn up, followed by blues—light sky blue, aqua, then the more uncommon cobalt. Once in a long while, there’s red, or gold, but not often.

I look for pieces that have been properly tumbled by the ocean, smoothing their rough edges. Those that are still sharp I toss back into the water to further their progress. The ones that grow cloudy as they dry are the ones I keep. They’re effectively trash, still, right? They haven’t yet become part of the beach—though one day they might.

The plastic bits tumble down into small fragments too—but they are not so benign as the glass. Their composition isn’t natural enough to be well absorbed by the life around them, and they release elements along the way that do more harm than good to our bodies. This is why we pick up plastic every day—bags of it at times—and in far, far greater quantities than the few ounces of glass we find precious like jewels.

Does the sea glass remain in a bowl on my nightstand? I collect it to recycle, eventually, to create something new and beautiful. I embedded pieces from the beach at Santa Monica in the tiles of a bathroom counter, in a house I’d help to build in the midst of Kansas, far from any ocean save that of wheat. I plan a similar fate for this special collection from Praia das Maçãs.

Those kaleidoscope colors will remind me of this home, someday, when we live somewhere new. Just like the homestyle chili I’ve made here reminds me of going to grandma’s house in Iowa growing up. Grandpa would know we were driving down from Iowa City to the farm, and he’d put a pot of chili on so we’d have it warm upon our arrival. He liked beans in his chili, and so do I. We usually had it with cornbread, or buttered toast, but my British partner in crime introduced me to the combination of chili con carne with rice. Is this the real deal, or an abomination? You can decide.

Homestyle Chili 

Chili com Carne Caseira

About a pound (or 500g) of ground beef (picada)

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

1-2 onions, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

4-8 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

Dried peppers, soaked and chopped to taste

2 cans of Mutti tomatoes (pelados enteiros), crushed, liquid reserved

2 cups (or more) water or chicken broth (or a combination, or rinse the tomato cans into a bowl and reserve that to use)

1 tablespoon ancho or other mild chili powder, or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon paprika doce or fumado (sweet or smoked)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon oregano (Mexican is preferred if you have it)

fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

greek yogurt

  1. Brown the ground beef in a medium Dutch oven or other heavy stock pot over medium heat, using the oil to help it keep from sticking too much. It will take about 5-8 minutes to get rid of the pink.
  2. Remove from the pan and drain off all but a couple of tablespoons of the fat remaining.
  3. Heat that fat, and brown the onions in it, for about 5 minutes. 
  4. While the onions are browning, crush the cumin, coriander, and sea salt along with the paprika and oregano in a pestle with a mortar until relatively fine.
  5. Add the reserved tomato liquid and let it reduce and caramelize a bit on the onions. Add the chili powder and toss to coat the onions.
  6. Dump in the crushed cans of tomatoes, and stir, also adding in the garlic and bell peppers at this time. Stir to combine and return to a simmer.
  7. Stir in the drained ground beef, and coat with the tomato mixture.
  8. Add in the spice mixture and the dried peppers to the pot, stirring well.
  9. Add enough water, tomato water, or broth to bring the chili to the consistency that you like. It will cook down a bit over time, so you may need to add more liquid as you go if it becomes too thick. You can use red or white wine, too, if you like, but limit that to 1/2 cup so that it isn’t too boozy.
  10. Keep on a low simmer for at least 30 minutes to bring together the flavors. The chili can hold for a long time on the stovetop at a low temperature, and it will just improve. Taste it and adjust the salt. You can also add hot sauce if you like more heat.

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