Martha Gets Cooking in Her TV Kitchen

Teaching Marcia Cross to fold a T-shirt and make eggs, the domestic diva bounces back

Martha Stewart launched her new syndicated show Martha on Monday with a nostalgic look back – to New Orleans and Mississippi before Hurricane Katrina struck two weeks ago.

After an initial hello – during which she declared, “Welcome to the premiere of Martha. I am unfettered. I am free. No ankle bracelet,” and humorous backstage shots of the crew, show producer Mark Burnett and even Martha’s French bulldog each wearing an ankle bracelet – the domestic diva got down to business.

She showed TV clips of past visits she took down South, shucking oysters and enjoying po’ boy sandwiches with locals. She also stressed the need to help the people affected by the disaster, and said she was launching a relief initiative that she will announce later this week or early next week.

“And yesterday, 9/11, another sad day in America,” said Stewart, who wore a light blue cable-knit cashmere sweater over a white blouse in her kitchen set (which, on Monday’s Today show she said resembled the kitchen in her Bedford, N.Y., home).

She said of her Sunday: “I watched a lot of television, thinking about what happened a few years ago, and it’s still kind of raw.” But, added, “We can still look ahead and pray for the future of this great, great country.”

Her first guest was Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross. Stewart, acting livelier and looser than in her previous TV incarnation, instructed Cross on the proper way to fold a T-shirt and how to “perfect scrambled eggs.” Stewart also playfully asked her in-studio audience if they wanted to come to her house and watch Desperate Housewives with her. The crowd roared.

Promotions on Monday’s show promised that on Tuesday there would be a segment all about the distinctive crocheted poncho Stewart wore the morning she left prison. The cloak had been a gift from another inmate.

“When I left prison, I wore the poncho because it was a cool night and it matched my jeans and it was just gorgeous and caught everybody’s eye,” Stewart tells Time magazine in this week s issue. “A couple of days later, a very industrious company that sells yarn put the pattern on their Web site, and 1 million designs were downloaded.”

Stewart, 64, also tells the publication that between her home confinement – which ended two weeks ago – and serving time in West Virginia’s Alderson Federal Prison Camp, “definitely home confinement” was the more unpleasant punishment.

“You have to watch the clock constantly because you’re only allowed out of your home for a limited period, and for a busy person watching the clock, and knowing other people are watching the clock, is extremely difficult,” says Stewart, who served five months for lying to federal authorities about a stock deal and nearly six more months in home confinement at her Westchester, N.Y., estate.

She also says that she’s ready to deal with the rigors of her NBC primetime The Apprentice: Martha Stewart (it premieres Sept. 21.), saying: “I can be fair and decisive and encouraging, as well as demanding.”

But is she really the ogre that she’s sometime portrayed to be? “If you want to see a tyrannical Martha, you’ll have to watch Cybill Shepherd,” Stewart tells Time, referring to the actress who’s played her in two fairly unflattering TV movies.

As for whom she would cast to play her onscreen: “Me,” says Stewart.

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