Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan.
Toast pecans on a baking sheet until fragrant, 5-7 minutes. Allow pecans to cool before grinding them in a mini prep food processor (or similar appliance).
Place squash pieces in a small saucepan. Using a sharp knife split vanilla bean and scrape into pan, dropping bean in as well. Fold bay leaf in half and add it to the pan along with the coconut milk. Cover, and cook over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until squash is soft, about 15 minutes. Use a hand held masher to mash squash mixture (should have uniform consistency like applesauce). Measure out one cup, discarding bay and bean. Cover with saran and refrigerate to cool slightly. (Can be done one day ahead)
Whisk together flour, ground pecans, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, combine sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla. With an electric mixer, beat ingredients until mixture is pale and has thickened a bit.
Mix in cooled squash sauce on medium until well combined. Repeat with dry ingredients until just combined and thick. Give the bottom of your bowl a swipe with a spatula to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula if necessary. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow bread to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before running a knife around edge. Remove to a rack and cool 10 minutes more. Enjoy.
My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love.
Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.