I don't often cook from recipes anymore. I use a recipe as a sort of rough guide for baking, but I very seldom pull out recipes just to make dinner. Unless company is coming. And then I pull out recipe book after recipe book, testing dozens and dozens of meals in my mind.
Dan Gilbert, the psychologist who wrote Stumbling on Happiness, says that our happiness simulator only takes us so far. When we say, "If only. . . then I would be happy," we are usually at least partly wrong. Sometimes, admittedly, the same is true for my dinner simulator. The recipes don't come together exactly as they did in my imagination.
More often, however, my dinner simulator allows me to enjoy dozens of treats without gaining an ounce. It allows me to imagine being relaxed and comfortable and it allows me to imagine that for my guests. I think about who is coming and what I know of their likes and dislikes and I plot a strategy that will make for a whole evening of treats.
Quite often, having imagined a multitude of possibilities I make the thing I had planned all along, something tried and true and much anticipated. That does not negate the process - it proves it. It's one thing to be stuck with your first choice. It's another entirely to know that the thing that came to mind was precisely the thing you wanted most.
Tomorrow I will cook, knowing what I am making is much-anticipated by my sons. I will plan, knowing there's a really good chance that what I think will make us happy will create an experience that will - for an evening - make us all happy.