Oct 022017

Today is Batik Day (Hari Batik Nasional) in Indonesia, a holiday for celebrating batik — the traditional cloth of Indonesia. It is celebrated on this date to mark the anniversary of when UNESCO recognized batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2009. The Indonesian government strongly encourages Indonesian people (especially government officials, employees of state-owned enterprises, and students) to wear batik on the day. There is also a custom of Batik Friday (similar to Casual Friday) in many businesses and offices.

The word “batik” is Javanese in origin. It may either come from the Javanese word amba (‘to write’) and titik (‘dot’), or may derive from a hypothetical Proto-Austronesian root *beCík (‘to tattoo’). The word is first recorded in English in the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1880, in which it is spelled battik. It is attested in the Indonesian Archipelago during the Dutch colonial period in various forms: mbatek, mbatik, batek, and batik.

Wax resist dyeing of fabric is an ancient art form. It existed in Egypt in the 4th century BCE, where it was used to wrap mummies; linen was soaked in wax, and scratched using a stylus. In Asia, the technique was practiced in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), and in India and Japan during the Nara Period (645-794 CE). In Africa it was originally practiced by the Yoruba in Nigeria, and Soninke and Wolof in Senegal. These African versions, however, use cassava starch or rice paste, or mud as a resist instead of beeswax.

The art of batik is most highly developed on the island of Java. In Java, all the materials for the process are readily available — cotton, beeswax, and plants from which different vegetable dyes are made. Javanese batik predates written records. Some have argued that it was introduced from India or Sri Lanka while others believe it is a native tradition. There is no telling at this point. Resist dyeing methods have been independently invented several times and have also diffused. G. P. Rouffaer reports that the gringsing pattern was already known by the 12th century in Kediri, East Java. He concluded that this delicate pattern could be created only by using the canting, an etching tool that holds a small reservoir of hot wax, and proposed that the canting was invented in Java around that time.

The carving details of clothes worn by East Javanese Prajnaparamita statues from around the 13th century show intricate floral patterns within rounded margins, similar to today’s traditional Javanese jlamprang or ceplok batik motif. The motif is thought to represent the lotus, a sacred flower in Hindu-Buddhist beliefs and must have been drawn using a canting.

In Europe, the technique was described for the first time in the History of Java, published in London in 1817 by Stamford Raffles, who had been a British governor for Bengkulu in Sumatra. In 1873 the Dutch merchant Van Rijckevorsel gave the pieces he collected during a trip to Indonesia to the ethnographic museum in Rotterdam. Today the Tropenmuseum houses the biggest collection of Indonesian batik in the Netherlands. The Dutch and Chinese colonists were active in developing batik, particularly coastal batik, in the late colonial era. They introduced new patterns as well as the use of the cap (copper block stamps) to mass-produce batiks.


To make batik, first a cloth is washed, soaked and beaten with a large mallet. Patterns are drawn with pencil and later redrawn using hot wax, usually made from a mixture of paraffin or beeswax, sometimes mixed with plant resins, which functions as a dye-resist. The wax can be applied with a variety of tools, but a canting (pronounced /tʃantiŋ/, sometimes spelled with old Dutch orthography tjanting) is the most common. A canting is made from a small copper reservoir with a spout on a wooden handle. The reservoir holds the resist which flows through the spout, creating dots and lines as it moves. For larger patterns, a stiff brush may be used. Alternatively, a copper block stamp called a cap (pronounced /tʃap/; old spelling tjap) is used to cover large areas more efficiently.

After the cloth is dry, the resist is removed by boiling or scraping the cloth. The areas treated with resist keep their original color; when the resist is removed the contrast between the dyed and undyed areas forms the pattern. This process is repeated as many times as the number of colors desired.

The most traditional type of batik, called batik tulis (written batik), is drawn using only the canting. The cloth needs to be drawn on both sides, and dipped in a dye bath three to four times. The whole process may take up to a year; it yields considerably finer patterns than stamped batik.

Many Indonesian batik patterns are symbolic. Infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms, as well as their families. Some designs are reserved for royalties, and even banned to be worn by commoners. Consequently, a person’s rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he or she wore.

Batik garments play a central role in certain Javanese rituals, such as the ceremonial casting of royal batik into a volcano. In the Javanese naloni mitoni ceremony, the mother-to-be is wrapped in seven layers of batik, wishing her good things. Batik is also prominent in the tedak siten ceremony when a child touches the earth for the first time.

The popularity of batik in Indonesia has varied. Historically, it was essential for ceremonial costumes and it was worn as part of a kebaya dress, commonly worn every day. Batik fell into disfavor in the early 20th century under pressures of acculturation but has since made a strong comeback, with Batik Day and Batik Friday adding to the popularity. A small gallery of designs:

My favorite Javanese dish by a country mile is soto ayam, a spicy chicken soup with noodles and various toppings. But I’ve already given my personal recipe here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-water-day/  Not to worry. Javanese cuisine is flooded with great recipes which are as regionally diverse as batik. Gudeg, jackfruit stew, is equally traditional. You have to use fresh, unripe jackfruit. Canned or ripe won’t cut it.  The boiled eggs are optional but when I make gudeg I hard boil them first, then crack the shells into crazy patterns, without breaking them, before adding them.  That way the food colors in the liquid penetrate the egg shells so that when they are opened the eggs have a sort of batik look to them. This version of gudeg is from Yogyakarta. A Javanese claypot is traditional for this dish, but any soup pot will do.

Gudeg Jogja


500 gm young jackfruit, cut into bite size pieces
6 bay leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 inch galangal, bruised
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and knotted
75 gm palm sugar
1 liter coconut milk
4 hard boiled eggs

Spice paste

50 gm shallots
4 cloves garlic
8 candlenuts (Indonesian: kemiri)
1 tsp coriander seeds (Indonesian: biji ketumbar)


Grind the ingredients for the spice paste into a smooth and well-mixed paste using a mortar and pestle (or food processor if you are lazy).

Place the bay leaves, lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass, salt to taste, palm sugar, and spice paste in the base of a soup pot. Add the jackfruit on top. Pour the coconut milk over the ingredients, making sure that everything is submerged.

Bring the pot to a boil, and add the hard boiled eggs. Turn the heat down to the lowest simmer and let the pot cook covered until all the liquid is fully absorbed by the jackfruit and eggs. Stir every 30 minutes or so. This process will take about 4 to 5 hours.

Turn off heat. Adjust seasoning as needed. Some Javanese like the dish rather sweet. Remove all the leaves. Transfer to a serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature.

Gudeg can be eaten by itself, but it is usually served with chicken and rice.

Jun 032017

Today is the birthday (1914) of Ignacio Ponseti, a Spanish orthopedist responsible for developing the Ponseti Method used to correct clubfoot. In his honor today has been designated as World Clubfoot Day to raise awareness of the problem of clubfoot and its treatment. I know it does not seem like a world-shattering anniversary, but there are two significant issues for me. First, is the fact that around 100,000 children are born with congenital clubfoot each year, and without treatment would be subject to a life of hardship.  With treatment they can live normal lives, and some have even gone on to be world famous athletes. Second, Ponseti sits in my ever-growing Hall of Fame for unsung heroes. He saw a problem and worked diligently on finding a solution which is now the standard of treatment, and it is nearly 100% effective without the need for surgical intervention (which was the standard before Ponseti, and was not nearly as effective). Hundreds of thousands of lives have been immeasurably improved because of this man, and his name is unknown outside of orthopedics.

Ponseti was born in Menorca (English: Minorca), one of the Balearic Islands. He was the son of a watchmaker and helped repair watches as a young boy. Ponseti studied medicine at Barcelona University. Not long after he graduated, fighting broke out between the Nationalists and the Republicans – the start of the Spanish Civil War. Ponseti served as a medical officer with the Loyalists as a lieutenant, then captain, in the Orthopaedic and Fracture Service. His duties included setting fractures, which put him on a career in orthopedics. Without ambulances, Ponseti used the help of local smugglers to take the injured into France. He soon escaped to France himself and went to Mexico, where for two years he practiced family medicine. A physician there helped Ponseti to get to Iowa in 1941 to study orthopedics under Aerthur Steindler. Ponseti completed a residency at Iowa in 1944 and became a member of the orthopedic faculty at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Early in his career at Iowa, Ponseti saw that the outcomes of clubfoot surgical treatments were not very successful and patients ended up with limited movement as a result. He set out to develop a treatment that made the most of babies’ flexible ligaments. The method was met with some opposition but over the past 50 years it has been adopted by many doctors and other health care providers worldwide. Well into his 90s Ponseti continued to see patients and trained visiting doctors from around the world. He also developed new prosthetic devices with John Mitchell of MD Orthotics and produced training and information DVD’s on the method.

Ponseti’s other research focused on congenital and developmental bone and joint disorders, skeletal growth disorders in children, and the biochemistry of cartilage. He gained insight in the early 1950s on the effect of amino nitriles on collagen cross linking, defined the curvature patterns of idiopathic scoliosis, and demonstrated that curves progressed after skeletal maturity. He also conducted many studies evaluating the long-range results of treatments for congenital dislocation of the hip, clubfoot and scoliosis.

Clubfoot affects well over 100,000 newborns annually. Early in his career at the University of Iowa, Ponseti realized that surgical approaches did not fully correct clubfoot and/or created problems later in life, such as severe arthritis or even the need for more surgery. In working to develop a new approach, he determined it could be nonsurgical. The Ponseti method uses gentle, manual manipulation of the foot, followed by application of toe-to-groin plaster casts. The casts are changed weekly after a clinician manipulates softened foot ligaments to gradually achieve near-normal muscle and bone alignment.

In addition to the improved physical outcomes, compared to surgery, the Ponseti method is less expensive and can be taught to nonphysician health care providers, which is useful in areas with few or no doctors. Nearly 80% of children born with clubfoot live in impoverished nations. The Ponseti method is used, for example, in Uganda, where efforts continue to improve the availability of the treatment.

Information about the use of Ponseti method can be found at these sites: World Health Organisation, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America, STEPS Charity UK and STEPS Charity South Africa. At the 2007 International Clubfoot Symposium attended by 200 doctors from 44 countries, papers were presented regarding an estimated 10,000 children successfully treated with the technique around the world in the past few years. The Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment (PIA) was founded in 2006 to improve the treatment of children born with clubfoot through education, research and improved access to care. PIA has a related Web site devoted to the interests and needs of parents. Groups that work with Ponseti International include CURE International and A Leg to Stand On (India)and Pehla Qadam (Pakistan).

The actor/musician Dudley Moore, who was a major player in the British satire boom of the 1960s before starring in Hollywood films, was born in 1935 with two clubfeet before the Ponseti Method had been developed. His right foot was able to be corrected with surgery but his left foot did not respond to treatment, and ultimately his left leg withered below the knee. Nonetheless he became proficient on organ and piano, and, in fact, won an organ scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford.

Other famous people born with clubfoot who were treated with the Ponseti Method include actor Damon Wayans, Superbowl MVP quarterback Troy Aikman, Olympic footballer Mia Hamm, and Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

The most iconic dish from Menorca, Ponseti’s birthplace, is flaó de Menorca (plural: flaons), a yeast pastry stuffed with young Maó cheese, for which the island is famous, plus other ingredients. Good Minorca flaons are very puffy in the middle, and there are both salty and sweet versions. They were once typical as an Easter treat only, but now are generally available at bakeries year round. Here is a case where you need to get on a plane, though.

They are not usually made at home, and you won’t find soft Maó cheese at your local supermarket (unless you happen to live in the south of Spain). Instead, here’s flaó d’Eivissa, from neighboring Ibizza. It is more like a conventional pie with a filling of sheep or goat cheese, eggs and sugar, slightly aromatized with peppermint leaves and aniseed. The cheese must be a young, soft white cheese like queso de Burgos. These flaons are usually eaten along with a glass of sweet wine or the local liqueur, frígola, a thyme-based digestive.

Flaó d’Eivissa



zest of ½ lemon
30 g sugar
250 g baking flour
2 eggs, beaten
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp anise liqueur
30 g lard
1 tsp dried baker’s yeast


4 eggs
250 g sugar
500 g soft white cheese (can be a mix of cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s cheese), grated
2 tbsp crushed peppermint leaves


To make the dough, cream together the lard and sugar using a mixer. Add the eggs, liqueur, salt, and yeast. Beat until well mixed.

Beat in the flour, a little at a time, until you have formed a pliable dough.  Knead for a few minutes and then let rest, covered for 15 minutes.

Grease a 22 cm (9”) pie dish. Roll out the dough and line the pie dish with it.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

For the filling, beat the eggs with the sugar, add the cheese and finally the peppermint. Do not use a beater for the peppermint, but fold the leaves in gently by hand with a spatula to avoid coloring the filling.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust, and bake for 50 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack, and then refrigerate. Serve in slices, chilled.