Holiday Tour Day 4: Create Me Free and CocoTutti
Color me chocolate
Welcome to Day Four of the Cacao Muse Holiday Tour! Today is a deliciously fun day—a fun Monday! Break out your paintbrushes, acrylics, pastels, crayons, whatever you’ve got, and let’s throw some color—and cacao—on the walls!
We’re going to paint chocolate.
But first, a word from your friendly neighborhood Cacao Muse. 🍫 If you’re enjoying these pairings, these mini interviews with your fellow authors and creators paired with tabletop photos of some of the world’s best chocolate, please consider becoming a card-carrying TCM member, as either a Cacao Tree or a Cacao Deity (I mean, who wouldn’t want to be an actual deity??) More on the membership levels at the end of the About page.
Putting these pieces together requires a fair amount of renewable energy (my brain, plus the lighting), cold hard cash (I pay my chocolate maker suppliers the prices they ask, not to mention sourcing all the props you see in the photos), time (the linear kind), and imagination (this runs pretty much 24/7). So any support is deeply appreciated.
I’m running a very special discount for the duration of this Tour: 20% off FOREVER. This means you go directly past the Cacao Tree, fly right over the heads of the Cacao Deities, and become a Cacao Muse Forever member. You’ll get all the TCM premium posts year in and year out, and never have to pay another cent for the membership. Also… between you, me, and the chickens, I’m doing a free remote chocolate tasting for everyone who signs up before the end of the Tour, as my thank-you gift. That’s a $75 value right there.
You won’t see this level on the About page because it’s not a standard option. The door closes December 25th.
p.s. Also, reminder there are prizes being given out at the end of the Tour. You’ll need to pay very, very close attention to these posts for clues. Stay tuned for the ground rules.
Today is the fourth day of the Holiday Tour. I realize God rested on the seventh day of His creation, but I’m a Muse not the Heavenly Father (or the Sun which has been at it for a few billion years now without ever sleeping), so I need to relax NOW, on the fourth day. To be clear… for a creative spirit, relaxing doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means spinning up the creative psyche without regard to earthly chores.1 This is why I’ve brought in the lovely and talented Kathryn Vercillo and her vibrant newsletter called Create Me Free.
The name alone soothes, doesn’t it?
Let’s give it up for Kathryn! Even better, let’s give in to the tranquility she brings… and contrast that with a gorgeously spicy bar from CocoTutti.
TCM Holiday Tour Day 4 pairing:
CREATE ME FREE and COCOTUTTI
Artists are like the magnetic lines of the Earth. We find each other naturally. We have an internal compass, an intuitive sense that pulls us to one another.
Kathryn and I “met” originally in Notes, and bonded over our shared love of Italy and art. I am the mother and daughter of artists, and I lived in Italy once upon a time—I still speak the language, and of course still love the food.2 Kathryn speaks a little Italian, and turned me onto a Substack in Italian (did you know we have multilingual Substacks here?)
A few months later I took part in her virtual tour for her book The Artist’s Mind, featuring her guest post on my other publication, The Muse. We’ve been in touch ever since, and I have to say I am in awe at the amount of energy and support and love Kathryn beams to so many of us here on Substack. How do you do it Kathryn??
(And since I’ve been trying my hardest not to reveal upcoming collabs, let me also not tell you about the next one Kathryn and I are doing, which is completely and utterly my fault for not having gone live yet despite the fact it’s totally ready. There. I said nothing.)
Kathryn’s formal education includes psychology and visual critical studies, which she interweaves in her research into the “complex relationship between art and mental health.” This is what Kathryn explores in Create Me Free, in considerable depth. As if that weren’t enough, she’s the author of numerous books, all focusing on some aspect of creativity and mental health and well-being.
Since we connected, we have been trying to meet in person, given that we both live here in the Bay Area. We almost made it happen in November, when I was in San Francisco to give a talk at the Fall Holiday Chocolate Salon, but Kathryn’s pup had had surgery and still wasn’t quite ready to be left alone.
Kathryn, you don’t know this but that day I was also at the Salon as a judge, and judged a bar that reminded me of you. It’s artistic, whimsical, and has a touch of spice—just the way you like your chocolate. This pairing was meant to be. This is for you.
The Cacao Muse: Kathryn it’s such a pleasure. Let’s start with your publication, Create Me Free.
Kathryn Vercillo: I am building an online library and connected community research and writing about the complex relationship between art and mental health. While I celebrate art as therapy and the benefits of creativity, I really dig into the under-discussed shadow side of how our mental health symptoms can impact our creative process, content, productivity, medium choice, identity and business. (When I use the term “mental health” I sometimes mean things with a diagnosis and symptoms but more often I just mean something akin to “how the challenges of life are affecting our thoughts and experiences.” And that, in turn, affects our creativity. And so, I believe that all of us are artists and all face mental health challenges to varying degrees.)
Birgitte [nods head knowingly]: Well put. In essence, if you’re human, you’re likely a creative spirit, whether you know it or not. Even at the most basic level… anyone with the capacity to laugh and wonder is a creative spirit.
TCM: I don’t need to ask for your chocolate fave, do I. It’s spicy chocolate!
Kathryn: Yes, I am a dark chocolate gal through and through! And I really like spice, so when dark chocolate has chili or something similar in it, I’m usually a fan. I also like dark chocolate with sea salt. I am not terribly brand picky but the Endangered Species chocolate bars come to mind—particularly their cinnamon, cayenne and cherries dark chocolate bar. They seem like they have a good mission and good ingredients.
Birgitte: I’m happy to say, they do indeed. In fact, they’re on the Slave-free Chocolate list! When we first chatted I was going to do an Endangered Species bar for your pairing, but then I went to the Holiday Salon in San Francisco and one of the chocolates I was given to judge was this 5-piece CocoTutti filled bar with spices, that just had your name splashed all over it. So let’s do this one!
Here’s the fun part, for you and the readers: which parts did I paint, and which parts did CocoTutti paint?
Can’t tell? Ok let’s get a little closer…
Since we sliced it open, let’s do the tasting already!
Chocolate: Speckulaas (European) Spice
Percentage: Not listed
Origin: Not listed
Ingredients: Dark chocolate, sugar, heavy cream, butter, liqueur, cocoa butter, spices
Tasting Notes: The journey begins like so many other filled dark chocolate bars… that snap, that crunch as your teeth break through the shell. Always love the surprise that awaits—even if you’ve read the package label, it’s still a surprise. And Speckulaas doesn’t disappoint: the interior begins to melt, releasing its fall spices—feels like cayenne and pepper and a hint of pumpkin. The liqueur says hello too, spiking those endorphins… there’s your aperitif!
So, you might ask, why are the cacao percentage and the origin not listed? What’s this company hiding? Who are these people? What am I eating that they’re not telling me??
Birgitte: Well, first, CocoTutti is not a chocolate maker. They’re a chocolatier.
Birgitte: A chocolate maker actually makes the chocolate. As in, roasts and crushes and winnows the beans, then conches and tempers the chocolate, and finally pours it into their molds. A chocolatier uses chocolate already made, and remolds or reshapes it into their own products, like truffles, filled bars and other confections.
TCM: When it comes to chocolate, people can lose their self-control rather quickly. How do you guard against that?
Kathryn: I have a personal “rule” for dessert when dining out. I have found that I often impulsively say “yes” when a dessert menu comes around and usually regret it—not that there’s anything wrong with dessert but I’m usually already full, spending money unnecessarily and not enjoying it. So my “rule” is, don’t order dessert … unless there’s chocolate mousse on the menu and then definitely order dessert. 😆 Chocolate mousse is by far my favorite dessert ever.
Birgitte: Same! That and tiramisu.
Kathryn: My mom tells me that when I was three or four, my dad (a woodworker) had a job crafting something for a French restaurant and that she and I would go by there every day and go straight into their fridge and eat their chocolate mousse. Perhaps my body retained that memory.
TCM: If there is one thing you had the power to change about the chocolate industry, what would it be?
Kathryn: It would probably be to raise more awareness about it, which is what you’re doing and I love that. As far as problematic food industries go, I think it’s one that people, myself included, just don’t know a lot about.
Kathryn said it. There’s a lot that people don’t realize about the commercial chocolate business, and that’s in large part by design. It’s a lot easier making billions when no one’s asking questions. But people are asking questions, and that’s a good thing. This is how change starts.
Alright, enough relaxing y’all. Time to get back to work, on to the next story. While I put that in the oven, I’m going to hand over Kathryn’s story to you, so you can share, like, comment, cross-post, restack, and ping Kathryn to let her know how much you appreciate a space like Create Me Free.
COMING UP! DAY 5 of the TCM HOLIDAY TOUR
I liked talking to Kathryn so much that I’d like to keep this energy going for a little while longer.
It’s not just artists who plug into the soul of the universe. Technologists and entrepreneurs do it too. We’ll meet one tomorrow.
See you then!
Of course I’m having to eat not just chocolate but my words, on this, too. I wrote that yesterday, and this morning, just as I was doing one more review round, I realized we’re fresh out of eggs, juice, bread, and a few other staples. So off I went grocery shopping, hence the delay in publication. Karma really does get her way every time, doesn’t she.
I have been permanently damaged—er, enlightened—by Italy’s parmigiano and prosciutto, which are far superior to any products pretending to be those foods, that are not actually Italian. I nearly got myself run out of a grocery store in Spain once for daring to tell the deli counter guy that Italian prosciutto is better than their jamón serrano.