Martha Stewart, business magnate, domestic goddess and ex-felon, signed 350 copies of her new books Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts and Martha Stewart's Cooking School this weekend at the Borders in the Northridge Fashion Center.

The three people from the media who have shown up on a beautiful, outdoorsy Sunday for the photo-op have been promised ten minutes of quality time with her. In practical terms, this means 30 seconds of frenzied picture taking, followed by nine and a half minutes of being told — politely, firmly, by a handler suffused with the mildly irritated attitude of a housewife with a soufflé in the oven — to please, please go away.

Martha is mainly there for her fans. They have supported her and purchased her milk-glass plates and egg slicers through three decades of changing food fads, four counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, one magazine closure (Blueprint, so sad), and more cookbooks than a school of octopi has tentacles.

From the looks of them, clutching their new books to their chest, these fans would kill for her. They would rape and pillage for her. Then cheerfully clean up the mess afterwards.

It surprises me how sweet she is. She doesn't have to be. Is reputed not to be, actually. I mean, she's Martha Stewart, for Chrissakes. She's a billionaire. She's done time. Hard time. Well, medium time. And here she is asking some large, gimpy, blousy woman in a motorized go-kart, who has purchased six copies of her new crafting book, about her carpal tunnel. Now that's class.

Or good PR.

Same thing.

But hey, it's early yet. She has 349 more books to go and can be nice about carpal tunnel.

I have never been to a Martha Stewart book signing before and am unfamiliar with the protocol. With the way books are to be “flapped,” or handed to her with their jacket covers already tucked in towards the title page. With the way you can take her picture, but not stop to pose with her–it slows the whole mechanism down.

Her attention to detail does not disappoint. She signs the new cookbook (which has a black binding) with a black-ink pen. And the new crafting book (which has a green binding) with a green-ink pen.

“Enjoy!” she writes, “Martha Stewart.”

The age range of devotees surprises me as well. “We're starting her young,” says one teenage girl's mother. The girl is into the crafting aspect. The cooking, her mother hopes, will come soon enough. I guess no one — not the young or old, hale or sick, rich or poor — is immune to the aspirational seduction of simple, elegant, delicious living.

Lurking quietly in the Drama section, 24-year-old Jonathan Benally, who is the pastry chef at Geisha House, is waiting for his turn to worship. He is nervous. Martha is his idol. He does a version of her Pavlovas — a disc of meringue topped with fruit — at the restaurant.

“I put my own spin on her recipes,” he says, then goes back to fretting.

“Never before has Martha written a book quite like this one,” reads's review. “Imagine having Martha Stewart at your side in the kitchen, teaching you how to hold a chef's knife, select the very best ingredients, truss a chicken, make a perfect pot roast, prepare every vegetable, bake a flawless pie crust.” Imagine that.

It would be a scary kind of perfect.

Happy to be in line.

Jonathan Benally, pastry chef at Geisha House

LA Weekly