Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Conference calls

Working for an international organization means that most of the people I work with are not in the same time zone as I am – no matter what time zone that happens to be. Since this is true for all of us, we are used to doing most of our work via email and other electronic communication. Sometimes, though, there’s no substitute for having an actual conversation. And since booking a meeting room, or just crossing paths at the water cooler, isn’t an option, we schedule conference calls. I average a couple a month, ratcheting up to at least one every week when we’re coming up to a project deadline or a conference.

I kind of hated being in Missouri for most work-related things, mainly because I felt like I woke up every morning running behind all the Australasians and Europeans who’d already put in most or all of a working day, even though I got up at 6am. But for conference calls it was excellent; I rarely ever had to schedule one outside of normal business hours, and if I did, it usually meant 6am, when I was already up anyway. (Still in pjs and not necessarily coherent, but upright.)

Now I’m in Australia and (other than the New Zealanders) pretty much the first one up, organizationally speaking. This has some significant perks, including getting virtually no emails on Mondays. However, when it comes to conference calls, it means that by the time most of the northern hemisphere is online, I’m thinking about wrapping up work for the day, if not going to bed. And a conference call at 9pm can really mess up plans for a relaxing evening of flopping on the couch with your spouse and watching reruns of Lewis so you can geek-spot Oxford locales. There aren’t many alternatives, though, when you’ve got people phoning in from three continents and you want to make sure it’s not anyone’s middle of the night.

The other day I had a one-on-one conference call with my project manager who’s based in Germany; since it was just the two of us, he offered to come in a bit early so that we could complete the call before dinnertime in Canberra. We did manage that; but only just: I hung up at 6:15, about 15 minutes before we usually eat dinner, with not a shred of prep done. Luckily, just in case, I had planned a dinner based around leftovers, fancied up with one of my favorite standby ingredients: frozen puff pastry.  

Savory puff pies
This isn’t so much a recipe as an opportunistic scavenge; I had a good-sized piece each of leftover chicken and steak in the fridge, neither of which was big enough to feed 3 of us but each of which was more than enough for one, if you get my drift. So here’s what I did:  
  1. Turned on the oven to preheat at 200C/400F. 
  2. Took 2 sheets of puff pastry out of the freezer to thaw.  
  3. Chopped and sautéed about a dozen good-sized mushrooms in butter, seasoning with salt & pepper as I stirred.  
  4. Chopped up chicken and steak into bite-sized pieces and put in separate medium-sized mixing bowls.  
  5. Divided cooked mushrooms between these bowls.  
  6. Added a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt to each bowl, then stirred to combine everything.  
  7. Lined a large baking tray with parchment, and placed one now-thawed pastry sheet on parchment. 
  8. Piled chicken filling on one-half of one pastry sheet; folded sheet over, then crimped around the sides with a fork. 
  9. Placed other thawed sheet on baking tray, and repeated step 8 with steak filling. 
  10. Pierced pastry parcels with a fork, and brushed with beaten egg for a shiny crust (optional).  
  11. Placed in oven and cooked for 20-30 minutes or until pastry was golden and the kitchen smelled like dinner.  
  12. While puff pies were cooking, prepped and cooked vegetables to serve alongside. (I used green beans, as you can see.  
I got 2 approximately 4”x 8” (10 cm x 20 cm) loaded puff pies out of this, plenty for the 3 of us, plus some for leftovers. DP felt that the steak puff was improved by the addition of a large chunk of blue cheese, so I’ll remember that for next time. And no, I didn't get dinner on the table in 15 minutes; more like 35, which was good enough for me.

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