1 To prepare the rice, bring the water and rice to a boil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Decrease the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender yet still slightly chewy, about 30 minutes. Some water will remain (do not drain).
2 While the rice is cooking, prepare the date topping. Place the chopped dates in a small bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the rose water. Add the date strips to a different small bowl and drizzle with the remaining 1 teaspoon rose water. Stir the dates in both bowls and set aside, stirring once or twice more.
3 To finish, add the half-and-half, sugar, salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the lemon zest, cinnamon stick, and vanilla to the rice. Return to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring several times. Decrease the heat to maintain a gentle bubble and cook, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. The consistency should be creamy yet soupy the mixture will thicken as it cools. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Stir in the chopped dates and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.
4 Divide the rice pudding among small individual dessert bowls or cups. Garnish with a few of the rose water-infused date strips, and serve warm or at room temperature.
To get a head start: The rice pudding can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer the pudding to a medium bowl and allow to cool to room temperature, stirring a few times. Cover and chill. The rice will continue to absorb liquid you may need to add a bit of chilled milk or half-and-half just before serving to loosen it. Keep the infused date strips separate, covered with plastic wrap, and garnish the pudding just before serving. To lighten it up: Use whole milk instead of half-and-half for an everyday treat.