Katya Drozdova, one of Moscow's hippest restaurateurs, arrives fashionably late for her own party at a friend's summer house. "So this is how you live!" she says admiringly to the hosts, taking in the greenhouse, apple trees, strawberry beds and picnic table under a trellis overgrown with grapevines.
Behind a garden is a small creek on the edge of an enormous field of tall grasses and wildflowers, where villagers used to graze their cows. It's a classic scene at a well-cared-for dacha, the Russian name for a country housemore often than not, just a simple wooden cottage.
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Even though Drozdova is late, the guests are even later. No matter: The dacha scene is laid-back above all. Since many of the cottages were allotted to workers during Soviet times, owning one isn't a luxury the way having a country house is in the West. Russians go to their dachas to relax during their short, glorious summer, when the hollyhocks grow as tall as the roofs and the sun doesn't set until after 9 p.m. People grow vegetables, make pickles and jams and gather mushrooms to marinate and serve as a chaser for vodka during the long winters. And they cook outside as much as they can, serving grilled dishes hot off the coals and family-style salads from the garden.