Martha Stewart retrenches amid stock scandal. The domestic diva puts her autobiography on hold and cancels her regular ''Early Show'' appearance to avoid being grilled about her insider-trading investigation

On her regular visit to CBS’ ”Early Show” this morning, Martha Stewart was supposed to discuss recipes for icebox cakes, but she canceled her appearance late yesterday afternoon because of the stock scandal that threatens to put her in the cooler. Once she learned that host Jane Clayson planned to pepper her with more questions about her role in the ImClone insider-trading investigation, she decided not to take the heat and stay out of the kitchen, the Associated Press reports.

Clayson had already questioned Stewart during a kitchen segment on the ”Early Show” last week, with Stewart declining to discuss her stock trades while hacking away at a cabbage with a large knife and saying, ”I want to focus on my salad.”

Still, Stewart continues to face investigation by Congress into whether she illegally traded stocks using inside knowledge. In the investigation of her friend and former ImClone CEO Sam Waksal, charged with insider-trading, it came to light that Stewart sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone stock last December, a day before the Food and Drug Administration announced it would not approve ImClone’s new cancer drug, causing the stock price to plummet. Stewart has said she had a standing order with her broker to sell the shares if they dipped below $60, but according to AP, investigators have found little evidence of such a stop-loss order.

”As she explained in her previous interview on CBS last week, she is unable to comment or offer any other information at this time out of respect for the investigatory process,” Stewart’s spokeswoman said in a statement. ”This inherent conflict unfortunately prevents Martha from appearing [Wednesday”] in her lifestyle ‘how to’ segment.”

Since the scandal broke a month ago, the stock price of Stewart’s own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has plunged about 35 percent, with Stewart’s own 31 percent stake in the company losing about $200 million in value, the New York Daily News reports. And Stewart has been laying low in other areas beside the ”Early Show.” The Daily News reports that she and Moore College of Art & Design ”mutually agreed” to postpone an October ceremony in which the college was to grant her its inaugural Visionary Women award. The New York Post reports that Stewart’s autobiography, ”Martha, Really and Truly,” will miss its early 2003 publication date because, according to a source at Crown Publishing, she hasn’t written it yet. After all, any unpublished manuscript or notes could be subpoenaed.

One place you can still see Stewart is her syndicated TV series, ”Martha Stewart Living.” A press release issued earlier this week touts a full slate of summer shows, including visits to such remote locales as the Iowa State Fair and tips on backyard grilling. That’s probably the only kind of grilling Stewart wants these days.