If you are overcome by the desire to make a Christmas plum pudding for 200, or find yourself combing K mart for that perfect matching sheet set, don't bother calling a doctor. There is no cure for Martha Stewart madness.
This cultish obsession with improving hearth and home has swept the country of late, inspired in part by Ms. Stewart, a spokesperson for K mart and a self-help arts and crafts entrepreneur who makes a small fortune offering advice on practically every facet of modern living.
In her new magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and in her cooking, decorating and entertaining books, Ms. Stewart shows the masses how to transform a piece of fish into a tasty treat (with chervil butter) for 12, how to make curtains out of sheets, how to make an ordinary home better and brighter.
In a rare interview, conducted while Ms. Stewart planned a housewarming/birthday party for herself and 299 guests, she talked about her coming book and love for chickens.
Q: May I ask how old you're going to be?
A: No. (Martha excuses herself to take a call.)
Q: You must be the only woman to have her own magazine and appear on each and every cover. Do you think it's vain, to always be . . .
A: My own cover girl? (Laughs.) Nobody has said anything -- yet. But it fits with the format. We're try
ing to make a magazine that has a lot of continuity, and you're right, it does feel strange, and I'd like to turn my back on the cover a bit. But it's working. People are buying it.
Q: Who is the type of person who is Martha Stewart-obsessed -- who reads your books and magazine?
A: Ninety-nine percent of the people are women -- though men look -- and she's about 39 years old with a family income over $75,000, and she lives in a house that costs over $158,000. She reads and she does.
Q: Why are you so popular?
A: Because my readers know that I really do these things, and they think that if I do them, they can do them.
Q: What's the best Martha Stewart hairstyle that you've ever modeled on one of your book covers?
A: I sort of like the "Quick Cook Menus" look, just because it was simple. (Editor's note: Martha is modeling a fetching windswept Cape Cod-esque bob.)
Q: What's your most elaborate project? Is it the Christmas gingerbread mansion with 14 bathrooms? I tried to make that once, and it ended up looking like some decrepit condo project.
A: (Laughs.) Oh, that's terrible. I would say my garden, which is the complete focus of the new book, "Martha Stewart's Gardening Month By Month." It took us four years to photograph, and it has everything -- berries, vegetables, vines, herbs, bulbs, garden architecture.
Q: Some of your ideas seem a little overboard. You actually make your own Christmas wrapping paper, cure your own hams. What do you say to people who think you are excessive?
A: I say I really like to do these things. You can never overreach when it comes to doing things for your home. I mean, an Olympic skater doesn't say after making a triple jump, "That's enough, I'm not going to try for a quadruple."
Q: I bet you even have a creative way to mop the floor.
A: Of course. On your hands and knees is the only way to reach every tiny crevice. I walked in on my daughter the other day, and there she was in her garage on her hands and knees with a soapy rag. She learned that from me, I learned that from my mother, and that's the only way. If a housekeeper starts using a sponge mop, I simply say "You cannot do that."
Q: Which foods are in and which are out?
A: Butter is out. Beautiful green olive oils are in. Producewise, fragrant white peaches are hot.
Q: You obviously taste the food you make. Why don't you weigh a thousand pounds?
A: Because I've got a personal trainer. I torture myself at the gym every morning. (Laughs.) I have to look good for the cover, you know!
Q: You have more groupies than the average rock star. They're very devoted aren't they?
A: Oh yes, sometimes they have a dinner party using my recipes and set a place for me. (Laughs.) Of course, I never show up. And some want to know the breeds and names of my cats, so they can copy that. They want to have chow dogs like I do, that type of thing. It's about emulation and it's flattering.
Q: You are also a spokesperson for K mart. What's your rebuff to people who say the stores are tacky?
A: I just say go see the new 160,000-square-foot store they opened in Medina, Ohio. Have you been there? They have a grocery, a meat market, everything.
Q: But you don't shop there . . .
A: Oh, I'm a very big K mart shopper. I just bought $780 worth of stuff from there last week, because when you're doing a new house, you need everything -- cleaning supplies, light bulbs, the works.
Q: Spy magazine once wrote that you ran over a sack full of baby chickens with your car because they didn't fit in with your plans. If this wasn't true, why didn't you sue?
A: Well, I was doing my magazine deal at the time, and it wouldn't have done me any good to be litigious. At first I laughed -- it was so ridiculous -- until K mart got a letter from PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] talking about a boycott. Those little jokes or whatever they are -- they are harmful. I told PETA to come and see my chickens. I keep the cleanest coop in the country.
Q: You find the time to raise chickens?
A: Sure. (Laughs.) And we get the most beautiful eggs.