THE CHOLESTEROL PROBLEM has become as closely linked to the American diet as apple pie, but many people still don't know all the facts. Since September is National Cholesterol Month, now would be a good time to find out more about this health problem and ways to reduce cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.

A local public advocacy group has published a booklet that discusses how to understand cholesterol test results and how to modify your diet in order to prevent or reduce high cholesterol levels. To receive a copy of the book, send $1 to Citizens for Public Action on Cholesterol, 7200 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1002, Bethesda, Md., 20814. For further information, call 907-7790. THE DRIVE-IN WINDOW has become the Waterloo of many dieters. Fast foods offer a lot of calories in a hurry, according to Kelly Brownell, co-director of the Obesity Research Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, and the drive-in window compounds the problem.

Brownell says that the extra step of entering a restaurant tends to make dieters feel more embarrassed; a drive-in window permits them to be anonymous. Friday, Saturday and Sunday: Oktoberfest celebrating Vienna centennial, Virginia Center at Vienna Metro stop, with German food, beer, music and dancing, and cutting of birthday cake from Vienna, Austria; Friday 6-10 p.m., Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m., adults $5, ages 7-20 $1, under 7 free; call 281-4492 for information.

Saturday: Career Day/Open House with the schools of culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management of the ATI Career Institute, with cooking and bartending demonstrations and scholarship prizes, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 7777 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. Call 821-8570 for information.

Sunday through Sept. 29: "The American Heart Association's Food Festival," with tastings of low-fat dairy products at area Giant and Safeway supermarkets; at some stores, heart-healthy recipes distributed, and registered dietitians available to answer questions. Free. For information, call the Nation's Capital Affiliate, 337-6400; Montgomery County division, 229-8100; or Southern division (Prince Georges, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties) 856-2325. SEAFOOD SAFETY PROPONENTS caught a whopper last week when the Senate passed a bill that would establish a mandatory seafood inspection program.

Unlike meat and poultry, fish is the only flesh food that is not regularly inspected by the government. The bill would put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of the inspection; the Food and Drug Administration would set limits for chemical and microbial contaminants and the Commerce Department would continue to monitor fishing waters.

Next, it's on to the House, which is expected to vote soon on a fish inspection bill of its own. SOBA WITH SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

(4 servings)

Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles. They are available at Asian markets, health food stores and in the Oriental food section of many supermarkets.

12 ounces soba (buckwheat noodles)

FOR THE SAUCE:

li,2 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 scallions, finely chopped (keep white and green sections separate)

2/3 cup peanut butter

2 tablespoons sesame oil (plus 1 teaspoon for the noodles)

1/3 cup warm water

4 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar or white vinegar

1 teaspoon chili oil (or to taste)

1 tablespoon sugar

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil for cooking the noodles. Combine the ingredients for the sauce, minus the green part of the scallions, in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Correct the seasoning, adding soy sauce or vinegar to taste. If the sauce is too thick, thin with a little water.

Cook the noodles in 4 quarts rapidly boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes, or until just tender. Refresh under cold water and drain. Toss the noodles with 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Arrange the noodles on plates or a platter and spoon the sauce on top. Sprinkle with chopped scallion greens and serve.

Per serving: 640 calories, 24 gm protein, 74 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 5 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1245 mg sodium.

Steven Raichlen

We left from the Municipal Pier that sticks out, like a squat wood and concrete thumb, from below the green shoulder of public lawn that is the Bar Harbor, Maine Village Green. It was late afternoon and our smallish fishing boat poked cautiously among the gleaming yachts and sailcraft of the harbor like a small mongrel sniffing a path through the sleekly mannered final contestants of a Parisian dog show ...

Don't go away! There's more!

The ratchet and chatter of its inboard engine mixed with the sharp cry of gulls wheeling over us in a gray and white cloud as we cleared the final proud vessel, nodding its mahogany and white head sleepily in the slow roll ...

From the July/August issue ($32 for six issues) of Eating Reading ("Interviews, Observations & Imaginative Writing about the Pleasures of Good Food"), 7 Frog Rock Rd., Armonk, N.Y. 10504.